How to Turn Your Smartphone Into a Wi-Fi Hotspot

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Looking to work while away from the office? You can use your smartphone and a laptop or tablet for that, even far away from standard Wi-Fi. Here’s the low-down on how you can unlock your smartphone’s maximum connectivity potential, saving money and allowing yourself to work poolside this summer in the process.

How it Works

Turning your smartphone into a Wi-Fi hotspot is also called tethering. Basically, it’s accomplished by diving into your smartphone’s settings and enabling other Wi-Fi-enabled devices around you to tap into your cellular data connection.

AT&T logoIf you own a Samsung Galaxy S5, for instance, tethering is enabled by accessing your settings icon, finding the “Tethering and Mobile HotSpot” option, and dragging the slider from OFF to ON. For your first login you’ll be asked to set a password, but you’ll also have the option to leave your connection “open” for anyone to use (though we don’t recommended that).

iPhone users, meanwhile, will find the Personal Hotspot feature under “Cellular” in their settings. Once the slider is turned to the ON position, you’ll get a popup notification asking if you want to enable tethering for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (iPhones default to USB tethering otherwise). Your login password will be pre-populated, but you can change this elsewhere in your settings if you prefer. If you don’t find the Personal Hotspot option in your iPhone, this means either your carrier doesn’t support tethering (which, as you’ll see, is unlikely) or your account isn’t set up for it.

VerizonYour smartphone then broadcasts a password-protected signal that your other wireless devices can discover and log into to get online through your phone’s data plan. For example, as long as you’ve got a signal, you could bust out your laptop while sitting on a beach somewhere and use it to surf the web. Or check work email. Or watch a movie. Or just about anything else you can think of. You can also share your smartphone’s password-secure signal with other people’s nearby devices, like your friend’s tablet or your grandma’s Nook.

It should be noted that not all smartphones support tethering, but it is a feature available across all the major platforms, including iPhones, Androids, Windows Phones and BlackBerries. Also, not all carriers allow tethering if you don’t first sign up for a plan that includes the ability to tether. Therefore, your results may vary.

If you’re not down with paying your carrier extra for the privilege, there are ways around this — although we can’t say they come highly recommended. For example, Android users will find a veritable plethora of apps on Google Play, like the generally serviceable FoxFi, which lets you tether without buying a plan from your carrier or having to go through the bothersome process of rooting your smartphone. And because of the heavier restrictions imposed on Apple’s App Store, tethering apps there are usually removed in a matter of hours, leaving iPhone users who don’t want to pay extra (if their carriers require such) to take the jailbreak route.

What It’ll Cost?

SprintBy now you’ve probably figured out that using your smartphone’s limited cellular data to power a connection between your computer and the interwebs isn’t going to be free.

First things first, you’re going to have to choose a data plan from your provider that will strike a balance between affordability and sufficient bandwidth. If your data plan isn’t bountiful enough, you could easily eat through your monthly data allowance and find yourself with a whopping bill at the end of the month.

Additionally, some carriers charge you extra to simply enable tethering on your smartphone, but almost always sweeten the deal by throwing in a couple of extra gigs of data for your troubles. Others offer the ability to tether free of charge, but make their money by billing you for the data you use. In all cases, though, the amount of tethering you’ll be able to do in a single month will come with a cap — even if you have unlimited data on your smartphone.

Confused? Don’t be. It’s just a matter of delving into the details as offered by your specific carrier. Here’s an overview of the top four.

T-MobileAT&T offers Mobile Share value pricing that ranges from $20 per month for 300MB of data all the way to $375 per month for 50GB. What?s good about this plan is that it doesn’t charge you anything extra to enable tethering. If you’re signed up for an individual, non-shared plan, you’ll have to pay an extra $20 per month to enable mobile hotspotting.Taking this route gives you an extra 2GB of data usage, but depending on how much tethering you intend to do it could be insufficient.

Verizon’s More Everything plan gives you a variety of options for using your smartphone as an internet hub. The Verizon Family Plan costs $160 per month and comes with 10GB of shared data, which can be used on as many as four lines and 10 devices, and there’s no additional charge to enable tethering. Its individual plan charges $20 per month for tethering at a 2GB cap and adds an extra $10 for every gig of data you use beyond your limit.

FoxFi

T-Mobile users who sign up for the Simple Choice Plan can use their Smartphone Mobile Hotspot (SMH) at no additional cost, up to the limit of their data plan. This isn’t the case for T-Mobile customers signed up for the Unlimited 4G data option, however, as they’re only given 2.5GB per month.

Finally, Sprint‘s mobile hotspot plan costs $10 per month per gig, but customers who are signed up for its unlimited plan can get 5GB of tethering for $30 per month.

In Closing

The benefits of using your smartphone to create a Wi-Fi hotspot are multitudinous. Not only does it liberate you from needing home-based internet, but it also gives you the beaucoup bonus of never having to pay exorbitant fees for internet usage at hotels. Even better, having the ability to broadcast your own secure internet signal means you can worry less about rogue hackers accessing your private information.

But before you dig into your smartphone settings and try to fire up your own mobile hotspot, give your carrier a call to discuss your options.  In many cases the effectiveness of your ability to broadcast internet to other devices will rely on your access to 4G and greater speeds, so prior to ponying up the extra cash it makes sense to find out if it’ll even be worth it. Now go forth and tether.

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