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How to Use Your Android Phone as a Modem; No Rooting Required

2011-02-23_1501

If your cellular provider’s mobile hotspot/tethering plans are too pricey, skip them and tether your phone to your computer without inflating your monthly bill. Read on to see how you can score free mobile internet.

We recently received a letter from a How-To Geek reader, requesting help linking their Android phone to their laptop to avoid the highway robbery their cellular provider was insisting upon:

Dear How-To Geek,

I recently found out that my cellphone company charges $30 a month to use your smartphone as a data modem. That’s an outrageous price when I already pay an extra $15 a month charge just because they insist that because I have a smartphone I need a data plan because I’ll be using so much more data than other users. They expect me to pay what amounts to a $45 a month premium just to do some occasional surfing and email checking from the comfort of my laptop instead of the much smaller smartphone screen! Surely there is a work around? I’m running Windows 7 on my laptop and I have an Android phone running Android OS 2.2. Help!

Sincerely,

No Double Dipping!

Well Double Dipping, this is a sentiment we can strongly related to as many of us on staff are in a similar situation. It’s absurd that so many companies charge you to use the data connection on the phone you’re already paying for. There is no difference in bandwidth usage if you stream Pandora to your phone or to your laptop, for example.

Fortunately we have a solution for you. It’s not free-as-in-beer but it only costs $16 which, over the first year of use alone, will save you $344. Let’s get started!

What You’ll Need

In order to tether your phone to your laptop as a data modem, without having to root your device, you’ll need the following things on hand:

PdaNet costs $15.95 and comes with a free trial. You can keep using it indefinitely but after the trial ends you will no longer be able to visit secure web sites. If you’re just using the tether for goofing off on your break at work then you may never need to upgrade. For checking your email, banking web sites, shopping, and other secure applications however it is more than worth it to upgrade your license.

Note: Although we’re using an Android device and a Windows machine for this tutorial PdaNet is available for a diverse array of devices. You can get the mobile component of PdaNet for Android phones, iPhones, BlackBerries, Windows Mobile phones, and even the Palm OS. The desktop component is available for both Windows and Mac OS X. The following setup steps should easily translate across the various combinations of mobile and desktop components.

Installing PdaNet on Your Android Device

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First, search the Android Market for PdaNet (if you’re curious why there are duplicate copies of the search results in our Market search, that’s a mystery best left to the Google engineers). On the off chance that there are future applications with a similar name, make sure to install the one from June Fabrics Technology Inc.

Go ahead and run the application once it has finished installing.

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Tap “Enable USB Tether” to turn it on. You can also do a wireless tether using Bluetooth but we’re skipping that for now. Bluetooth can be so finicky we don’t want you to get mired down in trying to figure out why your Bluetooth connection is acting up. When you enable it for the first time it will prompt you, as seen in the last panel, to download the desktop software. This is handy for those times you’re stuck without any internet but the internet on your phone and need to download and transfer the application to your computer. In our case we clicked No, since the computer we’re configuring already has internet access and we can download the desktop app that way.

Installing PdaNet on Your Desktop

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Installing the desktop software is pretty uneventful and requires no configuration. There are, however, a few things to watch out for.

If you have the Android Deveopment toolkit on your computer (as you may have if you followed along with our guide to remote controlling and viewing your Android phone) you’ll run into two potential errors. If the abd.exe is running you’ll have to kill the process with Task Manager. You’ll also get a notification that there are Android drivers already installed on the computer. When in doubt overwrite the drivers with the new ones from PdaNet to ensure you can connect to the internet properly. After the installation you’ll see the PdaNet icon in the corner.

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It should automatically connect when you plug your phone (with the USB tethering enabled) into your computer. If it doesn’t, right click on the icon and select Connect Internet. Success!


Have an Android hack to share? Let’s hear about it in the comments. Want to know how to do something on your Android phone? We want to hear about that too.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/23/11

Comments (33)

  1. Roamer

    Have you ever given a shot at Proxoid? I use it. It’s free, but takes much more setup. Worth it though, as it works on my Ubuntu box.

  2. cmcollins001

    If you have the Optimus S from Sprint (it may work with other Optimus phones and even other Android phones, but I have only tested it on the Optimus S personally) you can go to the market and download Quick Settings (the one with the green cog looking icon) Once downloaded open it, then you can click on the phones menu button and select Customize. You will see a menu of several items, including Brightness, Volume control, etc. The top options are Visible and if you scroll down you will see several “Hidden Settings” this is where the Wi-Fi hotspot will be.

    Simply drag the Wi-Fi hotspot option up to the visible settings, hit the back button and then click the box next to Wi-Fi hotspot to turn it on. And there you have it. Wifi hotspot without rooting and without tethering with a usb cable.

    Note: you cannot activate the hotspot by going to the Sprint hotspot option, it won’t work that way. Just place Quick Settings on your home screen and activate from there. ALSO, once you have it activated, you can go to the home screen, then the menu button, select settings, go to wireless & networks, then under the sprint hotspot (which is activated now) you can select hotspot settings and turn on the WPA security settings and set a password for security.

    All credit goes to Android Forums for the Optimus S

  3. quimera

    How about going the other way, like using your computer’s internet to your Android phone instead.

  4. Lou Gross

    I down loaded the Quick Settings App. on my 3G Slide there is no scrolling down to “Hidden Settings” to Hot spot. There is a mobile data (APN) with the Wi-Fi logo.

  5. Charles

    did this about 2 months ago and soo worth it for a 9hr car ride, jsut a bit too slow for gaming or netflix

  6. cmcollins001

    @Lou, are you saying after you opened Quick Settings and then the menu button on your phone and selecting Customize, it doesn’t give you a list of Visible and Hidden settings? If you just click on the app, the visible settings will show but not the hidden settings until you drag them up into visible. You have to select customize to move the options up and down how you like them. I’ve downloaded Quick Settings for friends on the EVO, the Droid X, the EVO Slide, and the one other Android phone and every one of them worked almost exactly the same way.

  7. cmcollins001

    I do want to say that the hotspot setting did not work on the EVO or EVO Slide. I can not say which android phones this will or will not work for, I can say it works flawlessly on my Optimus S.

  8. Mike

    What happens on my evo is when I enable hotspot in quick settings mobile date gets disabled by the phone. The both will not be on at the same time.

  9. Mike

    I would like to know speed wise how pda net compares to easy tether which is free.

  10. Mick66

    Now keep in mind it has been years since I heard this, but I was told the cell companies could tell you were tethering and it would be a violation of your service agreement and punishable? Does anyone know if this is the case?

    Thanks.

  11. Mike2

    Nice article. Wondering if @Mick66 is right about violating the service agreement.

    @cmcollins001 On the “Samsung Galaxy S – 4G from Sprint” — the “Wifi Hotspot” option is not available in Quick Settings. Went to Customize and looked in the hidden settings. The only settings available:
    Mobile data, Master volume, Airplane mode, Screen timeout, Auto-sync data, Auto rotation, Unlock Pattern.

    Perhaps Quick Settings has updated its app and doesn’t allow this anymore.

  12. MikeInfinate

    I cannot speak on the Service agreement question. However, I was able to test it on a T-Mobile MyTouch 4G and “Quick Settings” worked like a charm.

  13. John Tod

    Am I missing something here? Why would you want to tether your smart phone to your laptop so you can use the smart phone to browse the web when you have your laptop right there in front of you? I don’t get it. I don’t have a smart phone, just an ordinary cell phone so maybe I am missing something here. Can someone reply and explain WHY you would want to tether?

    Also if since I have the choice I would much rather use Bluetooth connection that way I could relax on the couch and use the smart phone without having to bother with cables if I had a smart phone.

    John
    furryface47@yahoo.ca

  14. cmcollins001

    @John Tod
    A smartphone is great, especially on the go, for so many reasons, however, sometimes you want the full screen effect of a laptop. Also, if you’re in an area where you are, let’s say for sake of argument, waiting for someone and it’s going to be a while and there isn’t any free wifi access points around, you can hotspot tether or usb tether and use your laptop for those things your smartphone won’t do. I know for my job, we have a couple web based apps that doesn’t properly show up under the mobile view, and I can’t access the administrator login on my phone or my Android tablet for that app, so I have to use my laptop.

    Usb connections are faster than the bluetooth connections, and I personally get very good speeds using my phone as a wifi hotspot (also no cables to bother with either) whereas with bluetooth it gets spotty at best.

  15. DesertDude

    @John Tod: You have it backwards. You aren’t connecting your phone to the laptop to surf the web on the phone, you’re connecting your laptop to the phone so you can surf the web on the laptop so you can use the larger screen and keyboard/pointer controls. I have an Evo, and even with its screen being about the biggest you’ll find on a phone, it still is a pain to do any serious surfing with it.

    Hope that helps!

  16. Tony

    Personally I run Cyanogen (mod) Gingerbread on my EVO so hotspot works great natively but just a tip for anyone who may want to use PDAnet (free). If you right click on the taskbar icon in Windows and select register then go through with it like you’re going to buy it (no need to fill out any info), it will take you to an https page. As long as you leave that order page up you can use your browser to go to any page you’d like including https pages like Facebook or banking without actually having to buy the paid version of the app. Also if you close your browser you’ll have to repeat the process each time to have full functionality. Have fun!

  17. Tammy

    I’m usuing easy tether. is there any signifcant difference between that and PDAnet?

    Thanks

  18. John

    can it be used on an iPad?

  19. Cory

    I think the preferred method for me is to root the phone and use Wireless Tether instead of PDANet. Makes my own wireless hotspot which works with my laptop(s) or my iPad and no cables.

  20. eli baker

    Using pdanet. Worked well bout 2 mos and then slowed down to.an unusable.crawl. perhaps. Verizon squeezed it somehow. Im writing this on my DROID. Excuse the misspelling plz.

  21. Sharna

    Downloading to laptop was OK, but installing..it hung. Went on the Thunderbolt fine, but tried to connect and got a message from Verizon saying the service would cost an additional $30/mo. Guess they plugged the hole already. Any suggestions? I’m stuck. Where I am about to move only offers 786 KB on land line but has 4G signal. Suggestions?

  22. James

    The quick settings app will no longer work on Optimus S

    They upgraded the phone and now it will say network not found.

    I wish there was another way besides PDAnEt, I paid for it and 2 brower tabs will kill the effectiveness…and videos, do not even bother. I feel like I am back in the 128mps modem days

    Sahrna, the two things you have are rooting your phone and accessing the wi fi spot that way…my ethics will not allow that, even if the phone companies are double dipping, data costs them a lot of money, and they hire a lot of people who would be hurt financially if we stole constantly

    Second is to pay for PDANet and wait 15 minutes for a 5 minute video, and to do so light bandwidth browsing.

    PDaNet lets me get most of my chores done so I can’t complain with the one time fee of 16 bucks, plus if you get a new phone or laptop, the transition is easy

  23. Rajesh

    when i connect my galaxy mini it is not connecting and shows the following test result.
    Verifying Internet on phone…aborted.
    Verifying DNS…succeed.
    Verifying HTTP access…failed. Internet not ready
    Test Completed

  24. honeygold

    I have the lg optimus s cellphone.I cant acess mobile hotspot to get the internet.so far no luck not even with the quick settings.can someone help me

  25. foreign

    thanks,,realy fast with my laptop,,
    am using htc tatoo with 2.3.4 rom,
    its awesome…love itttttttttttttttttttt

  26. midnight

    does it work andoird from cricket

  27. CESAR

    CAN I DOWNLOAD PDANET ON MY COBY KYRO TABLET?

  28. Fran

    Will it work on a cricket phone? I have tge newest lg android from there and quick settings doesnt let my laptop connect to the wifi. Any help?

  29. nichole

    I have a mytouch and under the tab that says wifi hotspot, all you have to do is turn it on and set a password, set my tablet to run off the wifi hotspot, and alas “free” internet.

  30. ortiz2191

    I cannot enable or turn on WiFi hotspot on my LG optimous virgin mobile carrier. I know it works on this phone cause my brother has one and it works perfect.

  31. ortiz2191

    It won’t turn on it just tries for a minute and then this message appears network not available

  32. ali b

    Is there anyway to watch it faster on project free tv? It’s just super slow. Will buying the paid version make it faster?

  33. Luke

    I’d like to reiterate Mike’s 2-24-11 question.

    How is PDA Net compared to Easy Tether? Also is the PDA Net faster than Quick Settings?

    Thanks for responding and I’m so glad that I stumbled upon this site!

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