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Smartphones don’t just allow us to access the internet wherever we go. They can also bring the internet to our other devices too. While tethering plans were once expensive, the rise of fast mobile internet has seen prices fall and data speeds increase.
It’s now possible to work from pretty much anywhere, on any device, provided you have a cellular connection. Today we’ll look at how to share your internet connection from your iPhone to other devices via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and good old USB.
What Is a Mobile Hotspot?
A mobile hotspot is a way to share your smartphone’s internet connection with other devices. The term “hotspot” refers generally to Wi-Fi connections, but for the purposes of this article we’ll be covering Bluetooth and USB connectivity too.
Apple’s iPhone refers to this feature as a Personal Hotspot, an option you’ll find under the Settings app. It’s one of the ways to get Wi-Fi without an ISP proper.
How to Enable Mobile Hotspot on an iPhone
Head to Settings > Personal Hotspot and flick the toggle to the On position to enable the hotspot. You may not find this option in the Settings menu, in which case you’ll need to double-check your plan or contact your carrier.
You might see a Set Up Personal Hotspot option which will attempt to enable the feature, but often your carrier will need to intervene. Or you may find yourself able to enable the hotspot, but no devices will connect when you try (or your iPhone is absent from the list of networks).
Unfortunately there are often issues with using your iPhone as a hotspot. Speaking from experience, I had trouble due to my carrier disabling a service on my account, an issue that took weeks of trying to fix. If in doubt, blame your carrier.
How to Connect to an iPhone Hotspot
To connect to an iPhone hotspot via Wi-Fi:
- Head to Settings > Personal Hotspot on your iPhone.
- On your laptop or other mobile device, find your iPhone in the list of available networks and select it.
- Enter the password displayed on your iPhone’s screen under Personal Hotspot and connect.
- Once you’ve connected, you’ll see a blue band at the top of the screen. Tap it to quickly toggle your hotspot.
To connect to an iPhone hotspot via Bluetooth:
- Enable Personal Hotspot under your iPhone’s Settings app.
- Head to Settings > Bluetooth and make sure Bluetooth is enabled, and you are discoverable.
- On your laptop or other mobile device, attempt to pair with your iPhone by searching for available Bluetooth devices.
- Once paired, head to your computer’s Network settings where you should find your iPhone listed as a network interface.
- Assuming this is your only active connection, your computer should automatically connect.
To connect to an iPhone hotspot via USB (laptops and computers only):
- Enable Personal Hotspot under Settings.
- Connect your iPhone to your computer using a Lightning cable.
- On your computer, head to your Network settings where you should find your iPhone listed as a USB network interface (Windows machines may install drivers first).
- Assuming this is your only current active connection, your computer should automatically connect.
Wi-Fi is generally the easiest way to connect, while USB connection is the most reliable. I’ve never had any success getting my iPhone and MacBook Pro to share a connection via Bluetooth (likely owing to a dodgy Bluetooth card).
If you decide to go the USB route, your computer will also charge your iPhone (something to keep in mind if you’re working on laptop battery power). Sharing an internet connection via Wi-Fi will drain your iPhone’s battery significantly. The more devices you share with, the more power you’ll use.
How Much Data Does a Hotspot Use?
How much data you use while tethered really depends on how conscious you are of your usage. Background updates and backups can really suck up a lot of data, so it pays to know how thirsty your computer load is in order to prevent large downloads or uploads.
If you regularly rely on your iPhone’s mobile hotspot, you might want to limit which apps can access the internet. You could do this manually using a firewall app, but it’s much easier to use Trip Mode ($7.99) instead:
Trip Mode is a small utility that’s specifically designed to save your data when using mobile hotspots. The app detects when you’re using a hotspot and denies connectivity to apps not on your whitelist.
This allows you to work using apps like Safari and Slack, while disabling background system updates, iCloud backups, torrent clients, and cloud storage services. You can even create profiles with different rules for different connections, and switch between them on the fly.
It’s a bit of a hidden productivity tool too, since restricting what can access the internet can remove distractions too.
Is It Safe to Use a Personal Hotspot?
If you’re sharing your internet connection via Wi-Fi in public, you might be concerned about security.
The most important thing to remember is that you aren’t sharing access to your iPhone’s data. Your device is acting as a pass-through for access to the wider internet. Your personal data isn’t accessible even if you give someone else the password for your hotspot.
You can always see how many devices are currently connected by glancing at your iPhone. If you’re sharing your connection, a blue bar will appear at the top of the screen notifying you. You can boot everyone and change the password by turning off your hotspot under Settings > Personal Hotspot.
Keep in mind that anyone with access to your hotspot can use your data, so it might be worth asking them not to download large files or stream video. You can change the name of your hotspot by changing the name of your device under Settings > General > About > Name.
Access Internet Anywhere With Your iPhone
The ability to take your laptop or tablet anywhere and connect to the internet via your smartphone is liberating. Faster cellular connections are transforming the way we work, travel, and play. 5G internet is only going to push this further.
To save on mobile data, you should consider looking for free Wi-Fi when possible instead of using your iPhone hotspot.