Tethering: How do I tether my phone?

If you use your mobile phone as a backup when your home broadband is down, then you may have come across the terms tethering and mobile hotspot before. Tethering in mobile communications refers to a technique that allows your mobile phone to share its mobile data with other internet-enabled devices. The most common way of achieving that is by enabling the mobile hotspot option on your phone. The other handy option is using a USB cable, especially if you need to connect only one device to the internet, e.g. your work laptop. The picture below depicts the high-level concept of tethering and hotspots.

Tethering: How Do I Tether My Phone?

What does tethering mean on my phone?

When you connect your mobile phone to any other device through a wired or wireless connection, that means you are using the tethering capability on your phone. When tethered to another device, your mobile phone allows you to share your mobile internet with that device. In today’s world, with the advent of 4G and 5G network technologies, tethering can allow you to share your phone’s high-speed mobile internet with other internet-enabled devices such as laptops and tablets.

What is the difference between tethering and hotspot?

Tethering and hotspot are inter-related terminologies; however, tethering is a broader term as it represents a connection that can be wired or wireless. For example, tethering can occur when you connect your mobile phone to a laptop via a USB cable, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. On the other hand, hotspot usually refers to Wi-Fi hotspots because that’s how we used to live our lives before the mobile hotspotting capability on our phones. However, on certain mobile devices such as iPhones, the term hotspot or personal hotspot covers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB tethering.

How do I use tethering?

There are at least three ways of using tethering on your phone, including two wireless options and one wired option. The two wireless options are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and the wired option is the USB cable. Both Android phones and iPhones support these three options; however, the terminologies are expressed slightly differently depending on the phone manufacturer. For example, in iPhones, all three tethering options are grouped under “Personal Hotspot”. In Android phones, depending on the manufacturer, the hotspot option is shown as Wi-Fi Hotspot, whereas the other two options are termed Bluetooth tethering and USB tethering.

How to use WiFi to tether?

Wi-Fi tethering or mobile hotspotting is the simplest of the tethering options and one that most of us are most familiar with. Smartphones nowadays have the option to turn on the mobile hotspot to enable wireless internet connectivity. Generally, you need to go into network/internet settings on any smartphone to find this option, and when it is enabled, the phone shows a symbol like the one in the picture below.

Mobile hotspot symbol displayed on a phone
Mobile hotspot symbol displayed on a phone

On an iPhone, you can find this option by going into “Settings” and then “Personal Hotspot”, which will display the following screen. In Android phones, depending on the phone manufacturer, this option may appear in different locations. You can check out our dedicated post on mobile hotspots for more information.

Where to find a Wi-Fi hotspot in an iPhone

How to use a USB cable to tether?

While it may be a bit uncommon nowadays to find non-WiFi ways of accessing the internet, your mobile phone can provide you with multiple ways to share your mobile internet with other devices. One handy way is the USB cable which allows you to tether your phone to your laptop whilst also charging your phone simultaneously. Below is how you tether a Google Pixel 5 phone to your laptop to access the high-speed mobile internet.

  1. The first and the most obvious step is to connect your mobile phone to your laptop using a USB cable.
  2. You then need to go into your phone settings and tap the “Network and Internet” option.
  3. There you can tap “Hotspot and tethering”.
  4. You can use the “USB tethering” toggle button to enable the sharing of the internet.
  5. As soon as you have done that, you should get connected and see the LAN/Internet symbol in the notification area as shown in one of the pictures below.
This is where you enable USB tethering on a Google Pixel 5 Android phone
Step 5: This is where you see the connectivity status when connected via a USB cable to access mobile internet

How to use Bluetooth to tether?

If you want to use Bluetooth for tethering a mobile phone to a laptop, then you may follow the steps below:

  1. The first step is to pair your phone to the laptop. On a PC/laptop, you may go into “Settings”, then “Devices” and then “Bluetooth & other devices”. There you can find the option to add your phone and pair it.
  2. Once the pairing is done, you may have an additional step in some phones (e.g. some Android phones) to enable Bluetooth tethering by tapping a toggle button as shown in the picture below. In iPhones, you don’t have this step.
  3. Then you need to go into your PC/laptop “Settings”–>”Network & Internet”, and then “Change adapter options”.
  4. There you should see “Bluetooth Network Connection”, which you can right click to be able to view “Bluetooth network devices”.
  5. When you view the Bluetooth network devices, you should see the name of your paired phone on the computer screen.
  6. Finally, you right-click on the device/phone and connect using “Access Point”.
This is where you can enable Bluetooth tethering on your phone (step # 2)
This is where you find “Change adapter options” on your PC – Windows 10 (step # 3)
This is where you see Bluetooth Network Connection (Step # 4)
This is where you see the phone that you had paired (Step # 5)

Which is faster tethering or hotspot?

Tethering and hotspot do the same thing as they both allow a mobile phone to create internet connectivity for another device such as a laptop. The speed of the connection is not about tethering vs. hotspot but about the type of connectivity used for tethering or hotspotting. The connectivity types are Wi-Fi, USB and Bluetooth. Bluetooth has a low bandwidth, and therefore, it cannot support high-speed data services. On the other hand, Wi-Fi and USB do not have this challenge and therefore are more suitable for using broadband services when using tethering. We did a quick test to compare how the speeds differ when we use USB, a Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth for tethering.

Connectivity TypeNetwork TypeDownload SpeedUpload Speed
USB cable4G network63.55 Mbps34.75 Mbps
Wi-Fi hotspot4G network 50.01 Mbps12.59 Mbps
Bluetooth4G network 1.31 Mbps1.38 Mbps

—Tethering an Android mobile phone on 4G network to a laptop, UK, Sept 2021—

Does tethering cost extra?

When you tether your mobile phone to another device, the device consumes mobile data included in your mobile data plan. So, for example, if your mobile plan is “unlimited minutes & texts with 50 GB of data”, when you tether, the mobile data consumption would be deducted from this 50 GB. However, not all operators or markets (countries) follow the same principle, which is why it is good to check with your operator. For example, most mobile operators in the UK allow tethering.

Is tethering bad for your phone?

Tethering can drain your mobile phone battery a lot faster because it has to do a lot more than just “stay online” when you tether your mobile phone. There is no rocket science behind this phenomenon, and it is simply because you are using your mobile phone as your broadband router/modem, which requires your phone to consume more power.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support especially when preparing for a new job, or studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:

Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy which explains the network nodes e.g. BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.

Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on product overview and product roadmap.

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