How to Tether Your Android Phone for Free

Turn your Android into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot

Android WiFi hotspot

 Pixabay

Working and staying connected on-the-go has become more accessible, with free Wi-Fi and outlets to plug into at many coffee shops. But free Wi-Fi is often slow and prone to security threats. While you can purchase a mobile hotspot, such as a MiFi device, to get internet access on the go, save money by sharing your smartphone connection with a laptop, tablet, or another device.

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

Check Your Service Agreement

The first step is to check your carrier's terms when it comes to tethering. Some require a supplemental plan, while others may block this function altogether. Verizon, for example, includes free tethering on metered plans and some unlimited plans. However, speeds 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

To find out if tethering if built into your smartphone:

  1. Go to Settings > Network & Internet.

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

  2. Tap Hotspot & tethering

    Network & internet, Hotspot & tethering in Android settings
  3. If the USB tethering, Wi-Fi hotspot, or Bluetooth tethering options are missing or greyed out, your carrier or plan may not offer this functionality.

Built-In Tethering

If a USB tethering, Wi-Fi hotspot, or Bluetooth tethering option is available, you can tether your phone without any extra charge.

  1. Depending on your device, you'll have one of two options.

    • Tap Wi-Fi hotspot, select Hotspot name, and enter a name for the new hotspot.
    • Turn on the Wi-Fi hotspot toggle switch, select Set up Wi-Fi hotspot, and choose Network name.
  2. Tap Security and choose WPA2 PSK.

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

  4. Turn on the Wi-Fi hotspot toggle switch to enable the new Wi-Fi hotspot.

    Save button, WPA2 PSK option, Wi-Fi hotspot toggle in Android settings
  5. Connect to the hotspot as you would any other Wi-Fi network.

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

Use An App

If your carrier blocks tethering, try a third-party app. For example, PdaNet+ is a free mobile app with a companion desktop app that shares a smartphone connection over Bluetooth, USB, or Wi-Fi. 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 which are outlined in the Google Play listing for the app.

PDANet+ on Android

Root Your Smartphone

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 a smartphone. Rooting a phone could void the warranty or might render it unusable (it becomes 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 Wi-Fi Tethering app from OpenGarden) that you can download.

Types of Tethering

There are three ways to share an Android smartphone's Internet connection: USB, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. In general, Bluetooth is the slowest and allows sharing with one device at a time. A USB connection is faster, plus the laptop simultaneously charges the smartphone. Finally, Wi-Fi sharing is quick and supports sharing with multiple devices, but it drains the battery and you'll need a wall charger or portable battery back.

When you're finished tethering, turn it off in settings. Turn off any connection you're not actively using, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which will save battery life. Also, tethering uses data, so it's not ideal if you need to connect for several hours. Tethering is best in scenarios where you'll be online for an hour or so, and an alternative secure connection is not available. If you need to tether your phone to your laptop's data connection, check out our article on setting up a reverse tether.