Tethering is the act of sharing your phone’s mobile data connection with another device — such as your laptop or tablet — connecting it to the Internet through your phone’s data connection. There are several ways to tether on Android.
Tethering is useful when you’re somewhere where you don’t have Wi-Fi access, do have cellular data access, and want to do something on your computer instead of your phone. But you may pay extra for the convenience.
Will It Cost Money?
Depending on your carrier, this may or may not cost you money. In the US, most major carriers charge extra for tethering. Verizon was prohibited from doing so after an FCC investigation. Verizon won’t prevent you from downloading third-party tethering apps and using them, but you’ll have to know about this — Verizon’s built-in tethering app costs money.
Consult your carrier’s website for more information about what they charge for tethering. An additional $20 fee to tether isn’t unusual in the USA.
It’s possible to get around these restrictions by installing and using a third-party tethering app. However, your carrier may notice you’re tethering anyway — they can tell because web traffic from your laptop looks different from web traffic from your mobile phone — and they may helpfully add a tethering plan to your account, charging you the standard tethering fee. If you’re lucky, they may not notice — just don’t be surprised if they make you pay the tethering fee.
Of course, standard data limits and charges apply. For example, if your carrier provides 2GB of data per month and you use 3GB between tethering and your normal smartphone usage, you’ll be subject to your plan’s normal penalties — extra charges or speed throttling — even if the carrier doesn’t notice you’re tethering.
Types of Tethering
We’ll cover how to use each tethering method. Here’s how they compare:
- Wi-Fi Tethering: Wi-Fi tethering has faster theoretical speeds than Bluetooth. With Wi-Fi tethering, you can connect more than one device — but the battery will drain faster than if you used Bluetooth.
- Bluetooth Tethering: Bluetooth tethering has slower theoretical speeds, but this shouldn’t matter on 3G connections. You can only tether one device at a time via Bluetooth, but it uses less battery power than Wi-FI tethering.
- USB Tethering: USB tethering has the fastest speeds, but you have to connect your phone to your laptop with a USB cable. Your phone’s battery won’t drain because it will suck power from your computer’s USB port.
In addition to the standard Android tethering options, there are other ways you might want to tether:
- Third-Party Tethering Apps: If tethering is disabled on a phone you acquired from a carrier, you can install third-party apps and use them to tether. Your carrier may charge you anyway if they notice.
- Reverse Tethering: In rare situations, you may want to share your computer’s Internet connection with your Android phone instead. This is useful if you only have wired Ethernet connections in the area and don’t have access to Wi-Fi.
Android has a built-in Wi-Fi tethering feature, although it may be disabled by some carriers if you acquired your Android phone directly from a carrier.
To access this feature, open your phone’s Settings screen, tap the More option under Wireless & Networks, and tap Tethering & portable hotspot.
Tap the Set up Wi-Fi hotspot option and you’ll be able to configure your phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot, changing its SSID (name) and password. Leave the security set to WPA2 PSK unless you need to use an older device that doesn’t support this encryption standard. WPA2 PSK is the most secure option, and you don’t want other people connecting to your hotspot and running up your data bill.
After configuring your hotspot settings, check the Portable Wi-Fi hotspot option. You can now connect to your phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot from your laptop, tablet, or any other device.
You can also opt to tether via a Bluetooth connection. If your laptop has built-in Bluetooth — most do — you can enable Bluetooth on your phone and enable Bluetooth tethering.
Bluetooth tethering is enabled from the same Tethering & portable hotspot screen.
With Bluetooth enabled on your laptop and your phone set to be discoverable, visit the Devices & Printers Control Panel. Use the Add a Device button to add your phone and pair it with your computer.
Once your laptop and phone are paired, you can right-click your phone and select Access Point to tether with it over Bluetooth.
Connect your phone to your laptop via a USB cable and you’ll see the USB tethering option become available.
Enable it and you’ll see a new network adapter in Windows. The USB tethering connection is described as a “Remote NDIS based Internet Sharing Device.” Use this adapter to connect to the Internet using your phone’s data connection. It should be used automatically if you’re disconnected from standard Wi-Fi and wired networks.
Third-Party Tethering Apps
There are quite a few third-party tethering apps you can download from Google Play. Many are paid apps or require root access.
PdaNet+ offers Bluetooth and USB tethering on all Android phones, while its Wi-Fi tethering will only work on some phones. The free version will automatically turn itself off and force you to turn it back on occasionally — you can have it stop bothering you by paying up for the full version. Unlike many other such apps, PdaNet doesn’t require root access. The bundled Wi-Fi tethering feature is new in PdaNet+, and is the same as the popular FoxFi app.
You may also want to look for other tethering apps in Google Play. You may want a free app that uses root and doesn’t require you to re-enable it regularly, or PdaNet+ may not be able to provide Wi-Fi access on your phone. In this case, try something like the WiFi Tethering app. It requires root access, but provides Wi-Fi (and Bluetooth) tethering with no restrictions.
You can also reverse tether — connect your phone to your computer and share your computer’s Internet connection with your phone. This is a fairly rare situation, but you may someday find yourself in an office where there’s no Wi-Fi. If you can connect your Android phone to a computer with a wired Internet connection using a USB cable, you can share its wired Internet connection.
When not actively using tethering, you should disable it to save power on your Android phone and keep its battery going longer.
Image Credit: Danny Choo on Flickr
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 08/16/13