How to Tether Your Android Phone for Free

Turn your Android into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot

Working and staying connected on-the-go has become more accessible, with free Wi-Fi all over the place, and even outlets to plug into at many coffee shops. But free Wi-Fi 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 just sharing your smartphone's connection with your laptop, tablet, or another device. 

The directions below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

The first step is to check your carrier's terms when it comes to tethering. Some ask you to sign up for a supplemental plan, while others may block this function altogether. Verizon, for example, includes free tethering on its metered plans and some of its unlimited plans. However, speeds will vary, and older unlimited plans require an add-on 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.

Network & internet menu in Android settings
  1. First, go into Settings > Network & Internet and look for Hotspot & tethering.

  2. Check for variations like Tethering, Mobile Hotspot and Tethering & portable hotspot.

  3. Tap Hotspot & tethering and you should see options for USB tethering, Wi-Fi hotspot, and Bluetooth tethering

  4. If any of these options are missing or greyed out, your carrier or plan may not offer this functionality.

Built-In Tethering

If one of the above options is in your phone's settings, you're in luck.

Hotspot & tethering section of Android settings
  1. Tap Wi-Fi hotspot > Hotspot name to add or edit the name.

  2. Tap Security to and choose WPA2 PSK. The other option is none, which isn't advised.

  3. Tap Hotspot password to add or update the password.

  4. Now you can connect to the hotspot just as you would any other Wi-Fi network.

Alternatively, you can share your connection via Bluetooth. First, pair the two devices over Bluetooth. Then toggle Bluetooth tethering to the on position. Finally, you can also connect your devices using a USB cable, then toggle on USB tethering.

Use An App

If you've discovered that your carrier has blocked these tethering options, you can try a third-party app. For example, PdaNet+ is a free mobile app with a companion desktop app that enables you to share your smartphone's connection via Bluetooth, USB, or via Wi-Fi 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 in 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 of rooting your smartphone. Keep in mind that doing so could void your warranty, or, in very few 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 Wi-Fi Tethering app from OpenGarden) that you can download, and you can tether away to your heart's delight.

Types of Tethering

As we've mentioned, there are three ways to share your Android smartphone's Internet connection: USB, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. 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, Wi-Fi sharing is also quicker 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 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which will save your 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.