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Your phone can connect to the WiFi but your laptop can’t? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

This summer, I’ve been staying in an Airbnb while temporarily relocating for work. I don’t need much beyond a clean bed and reliable WiFi access, so when my laptop couldn’t connect, I was frustrated. No WiFi on my laptop? Dealbreaker.

I tried every trick in the book to troubleshoot my laptop’s Internet connection How to Fix Your Wireless Internet Connection in Windows How to Fix Your Wireless Internet Connection in Windows Are you struggling to get a strong and stable wireless Internet connection? It could be the hardware or Windows itself causing the problem. Here are some troubleshooting tips. Read More . “How is it that my smartphone connects to WiFi flawlessly, but my laptop won’t?” I thought. Hours of research (and checking with people who know network administration better than me) only turned up dead ends.

Finally, I thought to myself, “I’ve tethered my smartphone’s data connection to my laptop before and it’s always worked perfectly. I wonder if I could do the same with a WiFi connection?”

It turns out, you can — and it’s pretty darn easy.

What Exactly Are We Doing Here?

I originally thought of this as making my smartphone into a WiFi repeater, but that’s not the right term, as explained in Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Read More . It turns out it’s really simple to turn a smartphone into a reliable wireless bridge: a device that connects wirelessly to the Internet, and then allows other devices to connect with wires.

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Read on for the instructions and other use-cases. These instructions are for Android, but if you have an iPhone, you may be able to follow along with the right app to enable tethering MyWi: The Best Way To Tether With An iOS Device [iOS, Cydia] MyWi: The Best Way To Tether With An iOS Device [iOS, Cydia] Many cell phone carriers offer the ability to tether, but some don't, and many of the ones that do charge insane amounts per month. Sharing your Internet connection with another device is incredibly useful and... Read More .

Tethering Data vs. WiFi

What you need to remember is that tethering lets you share one device’s Internet connection with another device. If your smartphone is connected to mobile data (3G, 4G, LTE, etc) and you enable tethering, you’re sharing your phone’s data connection. That means your mobile carrier may charge you for it, if they charge you by the megabyte or gigabyte.

Conversely, if your smartphone is connected to WiFi (which you probably have access to or can request the password for at home, school, work, in coffee shops, hotels, airports, etc.) and you enable tethering, you’ll be sharing your phone’s WiFi connection, which will cost you nothing extra (which may also be handy if you’re staying somewhere which limits the number of devices you can connect to WiFi).

What You’ll Need

You’ll need a smartphone or Android device that supports tethering. What if your carrier doesn’t permit it? With a little effort, you can enable tethering with any carrier How to Get a Tethered Android Connection On Any Carrier, Anytime How to Get a Tethered Android Connection On Any Carrier, Anytime There are ways to tether on any Android phone, even if your carrier has disabled tethering. The first method we'll be covering here doesn't require root (though rooted users have more options). Read More , any time.

If you’re going with USB tethering (which I recommend), of course you’ll also need the USB cable that can connect your smartphone to your laptop.

oneplus-one-usb-cable

You can tether with Bluetooth in a pinch, but it will be slower Tethering: How To Use Mobile Internet On Your PC Tethering: How To Use Mobile Internet On Your PC Want to share your phone's data connection with your computer? Here's exactly how to do it, how fast you can expect it to be, and how it will affect your battery life. Read More .

If you’re lucky enough to have a smartphone like a Nexus phone, or a OnePlus One, you don’t need a special app to set up tethering, and it doesn’t need to be rooted. Of course, learning how to root your Android Take Control: Android Rooting Guide Take Control: Android Rooting Guide As of the writing of this guide, approximately 80% of the world's population owns their own cellphone. Out of those, 1.08 billion are smartphones. Read More can be worthwhile anyway if you want to do more with your device.

Instructions

First, open up your Android System Settings. Then, under Wireless & Networks, tap on More > Tethering & portable hotspot.

settings-and-more

Next you’ll want to ensure your USB is connected to your laptop.

IMGP9281

Then, toggle on the USB tethering setting.

usb-connected-and-tethered

Speeds You Can Expect

I’m going to try to give you some idea of the speeds you can expect when you go through your smartphone to give your laptop an Internet connection.

Using a standard Ethernet cable connection I got these speeds:

ethernet-speed

And these were the speeds I had when I tethered my computer to my smartphone with a USB cable:

usb-tethering-speed

The 31.63Mbps (Megabits per second) download became 4.51Mbps when I went to USB. That’s only 14% of my original download speed. My upload speed didn’t suffer as much, going from 5.20Mbps to 2.31Mbps. That’s 45% of my original upload speed.

You’ll probably be surfing slower-than-usual. Of course, this is an unscientific test, so your mileage may vary. It’s worth a bit of reading to understand Internet speed Understanding Your Internet Speed Understanding Your Internet Speed So you're paying for a certain internet speed but what does that speed actually mean? How fast is it? And why does it seem so slow at times? Read More . You can test your Internet speed like I did at speedtest.net.

Staying Off Mobile Data

The number one thing you need to remember (and this goes double for people who are using this trick while travelling, like me), is that WiFi can disconnect! I shudder to think of the bill you would face if you were watching HD videos on Netflix on your laptop while unknowingly using your data plan instead of WiFi.

So, when you’re using this trick, always make sure that your data connection is safely in the off position — recommended even if you have a so-called “unlimited” data plan. Unlimited plans at many major carriers include fine-print indicating that they reserve the right to throttle, or in some cases cut off, your data if you go beyond “reasonable” amounts. They may or may not even specify what “reasonable” means to them.

Fortunately, the free and lightweight app EZ Wifi Notification can give you a notification whenever your connectivity changes.

If you would rather not download another app and instead are already a fan of the powerful Android automation app Tasker and Internet automation service IFTTT (If This Then That), you can accomplish the same thing Tasker and IFTTT: The Perfect Automation Duo For Android Tasker and IFTTT: The Perfect Automation Duo For Android Tasker automates anything you can think of on your Android device and IFTTT automates Web services. Used together, there's nothing you can't do. Read More  with those tools.

ifttt-wifi-notification

Other Uses

This tethering trick is also useful if your computer can’t support a wireless connection. That’s because when the computer is connected over USB, it’s considered a wired connection.

wired-connection

That means it could be a quick-fix for if your laptop’s wireless card is broken or non-existent.

 

It’s also a quick and easy way to connect your Raspberry Pi Raspberry Pi: The Unofficial Tutorial Raspberry Pi: The Unofficial Tutorial Whether you're a current Pi owner who wants to learn more or a potential owner of this credit-card size device, this isn't a guide you want to miss. Read More to the Internet, if you don’t have a spare Ethernet cable to support it.

Best of all, for as long as your smartphone is tethered via USB, its battery will stay fully charged.

What Do You Think?

Can you think of any other uses for tethering your Android phone’s WiFi instead of data to your laptop? Do you have a different method for getting this done?

Let us know what you come up with in the comments below.

  1. Richard
    July 23, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    I did this on holiday recently, we paid for one device to connect to the holiday parks WiFi, then tethered my phone (Nexus 5) to my laptop, worked brilliantly.

  2. Adam
    March 15, 2016 at 1:06 am

    I've had to do this last year when my laptop's motherboard was dying and throwing out very strange symptoms. The most annoying symptom(and the first one to appear) was the dodgy Wifi card. With the smallest movements, the wifi would disconnect and, it would be a extreme burden to get it working again!

    I was stuck with this laptop for school due not having enough time to take it to the shop and, my parents thinking I caused these problems (which were extremely common with this model laptop). In a few weeks, I lost my patience and, thought outside the box for a solution. I realized I could tether my good old 4S to my laptop and use that to connect to the internet (in the places where hooking up via Ethernet cord was unrealistic). During school, I got weird looks from teachers and students (one teacher was skeptical of me doind this during my class lol) but, I was ok with whatever squeezed a few more months out of this now dead man walking laptop.

    Unfortunately with my new LG V10, I'm still figuring out if it can be used (via tether) to deliver internet from a wifi network to a computer. Should figure it out eventually when I have time to sit down and play with it!

  3. Ben Leverett
    September 9, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    Well ..... that's suckish. Not that it's a problem for me, where I am, but "a word to the wise". This method of thethering your phones wi-fii, via usb, won't work on an LG G Vista for Verizon from Verizon.

  4. David Fernández Piñas
    September 8, 2015 at 8:15 am

    I needed to do exactly this after discovering that I company I visited only allowed WiFi connection to one device, so after connecting my phone I was not able to connect my laptop. Very useful information.

  5. Aldo Tanca
    September 5, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    On another note, I think the speed comparison between lan and tethered android device is not too meaningful.
    Unless you have an .ac router, an .ac phone and possibly a usb3.0 connection for the tethering, that speed achieved via LAN, which is simply as much as the provider will allow, is not achievable over tethered wifi.
    A more interesting comparison would be to check whether there is a difference in speed between laptop internal card and phone, given using the android device is proposed as an alternative to using the internal card ?

  6. Aldo Tanca
    September 5, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    You would not be able to use the phone as an hotspot with the configuration suggested, because the wifi card on the android device would be already be busy with connecting to the router.
    What you could do, in that configuration, is setting the laptop wifi card as an hotspot. That way, the laptop would connect via usb to the wifi through the phone, and allow other devices to connect via wifi to the laptop and share the connection.
    Otherwise, if the wifi is strong enough for the laptop card to connect to the router, you could connect the phone via usb and set it as an hotspot for up to 10 other devices to connect.
    That's what I do in my detached garden. My laptop is hooked to a usb antenna, then I connect to another usb port either a wifi dongle set as an hotspot, or my nexus again set as an hotspot, and my guests can connect via the hotspot.
    The last solution is f course to simply let your phone connect to the data network an set it to act as an hotspot, without tethering. That point up to 10 devices can connect, but they will be using your data allowance.

  7. Matthew Day
    September 4, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Looks like the Sony Xperia Z1 (and probably the other Z's) also have the required options.

    If you turned on the Hotspot feature instead, would that make it a repeater?
    Of course, that wouldn't help a device that didn't have wifi, but would help if you have to fish for wifi at a range that is longer than your USB cable - and if it works, probably faster than Bluetooth - though the speed of BT3.0/4.0 is not too shabby!

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