What is tethering, and how does it work on iPhone and Android? (2024)

What is tethering?

Tethering definition

Tethering is the sharing of your smartphone’s internet connection with other devices such as laptops or tablets. This sharing can be done via Bluetooth, USB, or Wi-Fi. Devices tethered to your smartphone then use your phone’s internet connection just as they would with a direct connection to the internet at your home or office. Tethering can also allow other devices to connect to a Wi-Fi network of your smartphone.

How does tethering work?

Tethering works by enabling your smartphone to share its internet connection. Once enabled, your devices can connect to your phone’s internet connection through any of the following methods.

Wi-Fi tethering

Wi-Fi tethering is when you use your smartphone’s Wi-Fi capability to share your internet connection wirelessly. This works for both Android and iOS smartphones. When enabled, you will set a password for the connection so that only authorized devices you approve can share your connection.

You can also use the default Wi-Fi name or change it depending on your preferences.

Devices without cellular service such as laptops can then connect to your smartphone’s Wi-Fi. Once the password is entered, they can access the internet.

USB tethering

USB tethering is more secure than Wi-Fi tethering but serves the same purpose. Instead of using the Wi-Fi signal to connect, your other devices connect to your smartphone via a USB cable.

With USB tethering, only the connected device has access to your smartphone’s internet connection. No information is broadcast, and no other connections are accepted. Besides being more secure, USB tethering is also generally faster than Wi-Fi and uses less battery power than Wi-Fi.

Bluetooth tethering

Bluetooth tethering works similarly to Wi-Fi tethering and via a wireless Bluetooth signal instead of Wi-Fi frequencies. It is generally the least favorable method of tethering. This is due to its slower speed, shorter range, and certain Bluetooth vulnerabilities related to security.

For a consistent connection, you should generally use USB or Wi-Fi tethering as a first choice.

Tethering vs. hotspot: What’s the difference?

You’ve likely used an internet hotspot before. These can be found at coffee shops, libraries, and places like airports or schools. You turn on your Wi-Fi-enabled device and connect to the hotspot, which gives you internet access.

A public hotspot is also open to anyone within the signal range of the hotspot. For example, a coffee shop in your town likely has a public hotspot. Anyone within the Wi-Fi range is allowed to connect to it and have access to the coffee shop’s internet connection.

Some public hotspots may require a password, but many do not and allow anyone to connect if they are in range.

Meanwhile, tethering is when you share your smartphone’s internet connection with other devices. It’s not open to the public and is only used by you or people you trust. Tethering should always require a password, and you can also enable tethering through USB or Bluetooth. A public hotspot does not support any connections other than Wi-Fi.

This process of sharing your smartphone’s internet connection with other devices is sometimes also referred to as a mobile hotspot, which can cause some confusion. But a mobile hotspot is just another name for tethering.

What are the advantages of tethering?

Learning how to use your smartphone’s tethering feature can have a lot of benefits when you’re away from your home or office.

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    Internet access anywhere you have cellular coverage: The number one advantage of tethering is that it gives all your devices internet access anywhere your smartphone has cellular coverage.

  • What is tethering, and how does it work on iPhone and Android? (2)

    Secure connection: When you enable a password, tethering offers a secure connection for your devices. Using a USB connector can offer even more security if necessary.

  • What is tethering, and how does it work on iPhone and Android? (3)

    Supports multiple devices: When you enable tethering, any compatible device can connect. You can also have several devices connected at once if necessary.

What are the disadvantages of tethering?

However, there are also a few disadvantages of tethering that you should consider.

  • What is tethering, and how does it work on iPhone and Android? (4)

    Can consume a lot of data: Many cellular plans have data caps or limits. With tethering, you can quickly use up your data limits. You can avoid this by only using tethering for low-bandwidth activities like email or working on documents. Avoid streaming or gaming on a tethered connection if you’re concerned about data.

  • What is tethering, and how does it work on iPhone and Android? (5)

    Drains your smartphone battery faster: Wi-Fi tethering can quickly drain your smartphone battery. It can also cause heat to build up if you have multiple devices connected. Make sure your smartphone is plugged into a charger if possible and in an area where heat cannot build up.

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    Slower speeds than some other options: Tethering may not give you the same speeds as a dedicated internet connection. If you need the most speed possible, try to use USB tethering and avoid Bluetooth tethering.

How to enable tethering on iPhone

By following these steps, you can enable tethering on your iPhone:

  1. Navigate to your settings page and tap the “Personal hotspot” option. If the “Personal hotspot” option is not showing, tap the “Cellular” option first to enable it.
  2. Once in the “Personal hotspot” settings, enable the option labeled “Allow others to join.”. As a note, the devices you own that are signed into your iCloud account will automatically have your hotspot available to them.
  3. The screen will display an auto-generated Wi-Fi password. You can use this default password or tap on it to create your own unique password.
  4. Connect your devices to your phone’s hotspot by tapping or clicking on the Wi-Fi menu and selecting your newly created personal hotspot. You will need to enter the password from the previous step.

To manage the different connections to your hotspot, you can open your devices’ “Control center.” From there, touch and hold the “Network settings” card.

You can then disconnect all devices by tapping the “Personal hotspot” button.

How to enable tethering on Android

By following these steps, you can enable tethering on your Android phone:

  1. Navigate to your settings page and tap on the “Network and internet” options. Ensure that Wi-Fi tethering is enabled if you plan on connecting devices via Wi-Fi.
  2. Tap on “Hotspot” and “Tethering.” From there, you can choose to enable Wi-Fi tethering, USB tethering, or ethernet tethering.

For Wi-Fi tethering, a new page will open with your hotspot name and password options. You can use the default options or change these.

If your USB tethering option is grayed out, you will need to enable it in the developer settings. Go to “Settings” > “About device,” then “Version.” Tap on “Build version” several times until your password screen appears. Enter your password and tap the “Developer options.”

From there, you can reset the USB default settings or enable tethering for USB or Ethernet.

For Android phones, Wi-Fi tethering is generally recommended because it’s the easiest option. Just remember that different phones can have different Android versions, so some menu options may vary slightly.


What is tethering, and how does it work on iPhone and Android? (2024)
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