How to Tether Your Cellphone as a Modem

Tether your laptop to your phone's hotspot for internet access anywhere

One frequently asked question about mobile computing is how to connect a laptop to the internet through a cellphone connection—a process known as tethering. Although tethering isn't difficult to accomplish, the answer is tricky because wireless carriers have different rules and plans for allowing (or not allowing) tethering. Cellphone models also have different limitations.

When in doubt, refer to your service provider and phone manufacturer for instructions, but here's some information to get you started.

Woman on phone

Tom Werner / Getty Images

What You Need

To set up your cellphone as a modem, you need the following:

  • The device you want to use with the internet—your laptop or tablet, for example.
  • A data-capable cellphone that you'll use as the modem. Some feature cellphones can't access the internet, so they won't work.
  • A data plan for the phone from your wireless provider. Most cellular providers require you to have a data plan for your smartphone, but regular (or feature) phones may also be web-capable and can act as modems for your laptop. You need a data plan for the phone, whether it's a cellphone or smartphone.

Tethering Options

There are a couple of ways to tether your devices so you can go online on your laptop or tablet using your cellphone's internet connection and data plan.

How to Tether With an AT&T Cellphone

You can tether your laptop or tablet to most AT&T phones for access to the internet. Here's how to get started using your AT&T cellphone as a modem for your laptop or tablet:

  1. To tether a phone to a computing device, the phone must be subscribed to a rate plan with a tethering feature. For example, the AT&T DataPro 5 GB plan includes mobile hotspot capability.

  2. Use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or a USB or serial cable to connect your laptop or tablet to your phone.

  3. Turn on the mobile hotspot in your phone's settings. For example, with an iPhone, go to Settings > Cellular > Personal Hotspot and turn it on.

    If you don't have a hotspot set up or your plan doesn't support one, you'll see Set Up Personal Hotspot with phone and website options to do that.

    iPhone Personal Hotspot settings

How to Tether With a Verizon Cellphone

Verizon's entices you to "unleash your phone's power" to use it as a portable modem to access the internet on your notebook. Your mobile phone already acts as a modem and pulls in a mobile broadband signal that your laptop can use with Verizon's Mobile Hotspot feature that is included with most of its plans.

All of Verizon's current smartphones and basic phones are compatible with Mobile Hotspot. If you have a qualifying plan for your handset, you're ready to go.

Connecting your two devices varies by phone model and device, but Verizon includes instructions on its website that will help you. In general, open the Wi-Fi settings on the device you want to connect to the Mobile Hotspot and scan for available networks.

How to Tether With a T-Mobile Cellphone

T-Mobile lets you share your device's internet connection with up to 10 Wi-Fi-enabled devices, provided you have a plan that includes Smartphone Mobile HotSpot (SMHS). Most plans include it, but you can log in to your account to make sure your plan does.

On your phone, turn on Personal Hotspot or Wi-Fi Sharing in the settings. Then, on the laptop or other device, connect to the mobile hotspot network you just enabled using Wi-Fi. Alternatively, you can use a USB cable to connect to other devices.

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