How To Tether Your Android Phone For Free

Turn your Android into a personal WiFi hotspot

a business man working at office
Kohei Hara / Getty Images

Working and staying connected on-the-go has become easier and easier, with free WiFi all over the place, and even outlets to plug into at many coffee shops. But free WiFi is often slow and prone to security threats, so it's not always a great option. While you can purchase a mobile hotspot, such as a MiFi device, to get Internet access on the go, you can save money by simply sharing your smartphone's connection with your laptop, tablet, or other device.

 

The first step is to check your carrier's terms when it comes to tethering. Some ask you to sign up for an supplemental plan, while others may block this function altogether. Verizon, for example, includes free tethering on its metered plans, but charges an extra fee if you're grandfathered into an unlimited plan. In some cases, you can get around these limitations. Here are a few ways to tether your Android smartphone for free. 

Check Your Settings

Once you've figured out your carrier's rules, find out if tethering if built into your smartphone. First, go into Settings, and you should see one or more of the following options: Tethering, Mobile Hotspot or Tethering & portable hotspot. There, you should see options for USB tethering, WiFi hotspot, and Bluetooth tethering. 

Use An App

If you've discovered that these tethering options are blocked, you can try a third-party app. PCWorld recommends PdaNet, an app that you download to your smartphone along with a companion desktop app for your computer.

With this free app, now called PdaNet+, you can share your smartphone's connection via Bluetooth, USB, or via WiFi with some smartphone models. You may not be able to download the app directly if you have AT&T or Sprint, but the app maker offers a way around that. There are a few other possible restrictions you may run into, all outlined on the app's Google Play listing.

Root Your Smartphone

As always, the way to get the most out of your Android smartphone is to root it. Free and unrestricted tethering is one of the many benefits to rooting your smartphone. Keep in mind that doing so could void your warranty, or, in very rare cases, render it unusable (aka bricked). But, in most cases, the good outweighs the bad. Once your smartphone is rooted, you won't have any restrictions on apps (such as the aptly named WiFi Tethering app from OpenGarden) that you can download, and you can tether away to your heart's delight.

Types of Tethering

As I've mentioned, there are three ways to share your Android smartphone's Internet connection: USB, Bluetooth, and WiFi. In general, Bluetooth will be the slowest, and you can only share with one device at a time. A USB connection will be faster, plus your laptop will simultaneously charging your smartphone. Finally, WiFi sharing is also faster and supports sharing with multiple devices, but it will drain more battery life. In any case, it's a good idea to carry along a wall charger or portable battery back. 

Once you've finished tethering, be sure to turn it off in settings. You should turn off any connection you're not actively using, such as WiFi and Bluetooth, which will save you precious battery life.

It's also important to know that tethering will eat up data, so it's not ideal if you need to connect for several hours. Tethering is best in scenarios where you need to get online for no more than an hour or so, and an alternative secure connection is not available.