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.
What Is a Mobile Hotspot?
A mobile hotspot is an ad hoc wireless access point that is created by a dedicated hardware device or a smartphone feature that shares the phone’s cellular data.
Mobile hotspots are also known as portable hotspots. The hardware devices used to create them, officially known as pocket or travel routers, are sometimes referred to as mobile hotspots as well. They are also often generically known as Mi-Fis, although that name is owned by Novatel in the United States and many other countries.
Pocket routers access cellular signals and convert 3G and 4G signals to Wi-Fi and vice versa, creating mobile Wi-Fi networks that can be shared by multiple users within about 10 meters of the device. Most wireless carriers offer mobile hotspot devices and the wireless data plans required to enable them. Another option is using a smartphone to connect other devices. Many smartphones enable the creation of a mobile hotspot through tethering, accessing the phone’s existing cellular data connection.
The bring-your-own network (BYON) often involves employees creating mobile hotspots at work, which can impact network security. For example, an employee who creates a mobile hotspot at work is simultaneously connected to three networks at once: the cellular carrier’s, the hotspot and the corporate network. If the device or any of the networks is not secure, that can put corporate data at risk.
How to Enable Mobile Hotspot on an iPhone
A Personal Hotspot lets you share the cellular data connection of your iPhone or iPad (Wi-Fi + Cellular) when you don’t have access to a Wi-Fi network.
Set up Personal Hotspot
- Go to Settings > Cellular.
- Tap Personal Hotspot, then tap the slider to turn it on.
If you don’t see the option for Personal Hotspot, contact your carrier to make sure that you can use Personal Hotspot with your plan.
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).
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).
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.