What Is iPhone Tethering and Personal Hotspot?

Use your iPhone to connect other devices to the internet

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Tethering is a super-useful, but not very well known, feature of the iPhone. Tethering lets you use your iPhone as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot to provide internet access to a laptop or other Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as an iPad or iPod touch.

Tethering is not unique to the iPhone; it's available on many smartphones. As long as users have the right software and a compatible data plan from a cellular phone company, users can wirelessly connect their devices to a smartphone and use the phone's cellular internet connection to provide wireless connectivity to the computer or mobile device. The iPhone supports tethering using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB connections.

How iPhone Tethering Works

Tethering works by creating a short-range wireless network using the iPhone as its hub. In this case, the iPhone functions like a traditional wireless router, such as Apple's AirPort or any other Wi-Fi router. The iPhone connects to a cellular network to send and receive data and then broadcasts that connection to the devices connected to its network. Data sent to and from the connected devices is routed through the iPhone to the internet.

Tethered connections are usually slower than broadband or Wi-Fi connections, but they are more portable. As long as the smartphone has data service reception, the network is available. 

IPhone Tethering Requirements

To use your iPhone for tethering, you must have an iPhone 3GS or higher, running iOS 4.3 or higher, with a data plan that supports tethering. Any device that can connect to Wi-Fi, including the iPad, iPod touch, Macs, and laptops, can connect to an iPhone with tethering enabled.

Security for Tethering

For security purposes, all tethering networks are password-protected by default, meaning that they can only be accessed by people with the password. That makes them pretty secure. If you want, though, you can change the default password of your Personal Hotspot.

Data Usage With iPhone Tethering

Te data used by the devices tethered to the iPhone counts against the phone's monthly data usage limit. This means that letting other people connect to your iPhone's Personal Hotspot can use up your data really quickly. Data overages caused by using tethering are charged at the same rate as traditional data overages.

  • Maximum number of simultaneously connected devices: 5
  • Maximum number of simultaneously Wi-Fi connections: 3

Costs for Tethering

When it debuted on the iPhone in 2011, tethering was an optional feature that users could add to their monthly voice and data plans. Since then, the way that phone companies price their plans for smartphone users has changed, making data services the foundation of the monthly cost. As a result, tethering is now included in most plans from every major carrier for no additional price. The only requirement is that the user must have a monthly plan that includes a certain amount of data to get the feature, although that amount varies by service provider. In some cases, users with unlimited data plans are not able to use tethering to prevent high data use

How Tethering Differs From a Personal Hotspot

You may have heard the terms "tethering" and "Personal Hotspot" discussed together. That's because tethering is the general name for this feature, while Apple's version is called Personal Hotspot. Both terms are correct, but when looking for the function on iOS devices, look for anything labeled Personal Hotspot.

How to Use Tethering on iPhone

Now that you know about tethering and personal hotspots, it's time to set up and use a hotspot on your iPhone. 

If you're planning to tether and iPad to an iPhone, we've got step-by-step instructions for that, too.

If you've been using Personal Hotspot, but now the option is missing from your iPhone, check out How to Fix iPhone Personal Hotspot on iPhone & iOS.