Using Mobile Networking on Android Phones

Android offers many ways to connect

Four hands using smart phones for different things

 James Boast/Getty Images

Your Android phone makes working with mobile networking quite easy using a few different methods.

The tips and screenshots here are based on Android version 8 (also known as "Oreo").

Mobile Phone Data Usage

Smartphones carefully track their mobile data usage, given that many phone and data service plans have associated limits and fees.

Android Network settings screen
Android mobile data screen
Android mobile data usage by app

In the example shown, the Settings > Network > Mobile data menu contains options for:

  • Completely switching off mobile data, which prevents the phone from sending and receiving data over its cell connection but not over a Wi-Fi connection
  • Limiting mobile data usage, which switches off mobile data traffic only when a specified total usage amount is reached

Bluetooth Settings on Android Phones

All modern smartphones support Bluetooth connectivity. Android provides an on/off menu option to control the Bluetooth radio. Consider keeping Bluetooth off when not using it to improve the security of your device. You'll find these settings in Settings > Network > Bluetooth.

Android Network settings screen
Android Settings > Network > Bluetooth toggled on
Android Bluetooth screen

The round arrow icon at the top of this menu allows you to rescan the area for other Bluetooth devices in signal range. Any devices found will appear in the list. Clicking on the name or icon for one of these devices initiates a pairing request.

NFC Settings on Android Phones

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a radio communication technology separate from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi that enables two devices very close to each other to exchange data using very little power. NFC is sometimes used for making purchases from a mobile phone (also known as mobile payments).

Android Settings > Network > Bluetooth toggled on
Android NFC
Android Beam

The Android operating system includes a feature called Beam that enables data sharing from apps using an NFC link. To enable NFC, go to Settings > Network > NFC to enable Android Beam. To use it, just touch two devices together so that their NFC chips are close enough to make a connection.

Positioning the two devices back to back generally works best for NFC connection. You can use NFC with or without Beam.

Mobile Hotspots and Tethering on Android Phones

You can set up your Android phone to share your wireless connection with a local device network, turning it into a personal hotspot (also known as a portable hotspot). Any other devices with the network name and password can then log into this network and share your internet connection. Your service provider might include a setting specifically for tethering on your phone, so methods vary. Generally, however, you'll find the settings under Network > Tethering > Mobile hotspot.

Android Settings > Network > Bluetooth toggled on
Android Tethering menu
Android Mobile Hotspot menu

The Mobile Hotspot menu controls personal hotspot support for Wi-Fi devices. Besides turning the feature on and off, this menu controls the required parameters for setting up a new hotspot:

  • Hotspot network name (Wi-Fi SSID)
  • Network security option (WPA2 or others)
  • Timeout value, which automatically shuts off the hotspot after the specified number of minutes of inactivity, also a useful security feature

The Tethering menu allows you to use Bluetooth or USB instead of Wi-Fi for connection sharing.

To avoid unwanted connections and security exposure, these features should be kept turned off unless actively being used.

Advanced Mobile Settings on Android Phones

Also consider these additional mobile network settings. They're less commonly used but each is important in certain situations:

  • Data roaming: Phones that lose connection to their cell service provider are capable of connecting to other provider's networks while roaming (traveling in and out of the service coverage areas). Android phones provide a menu option to turn data roaming access on or off as shown. Many users prefer to keep roaming off unless they really need it, because using this feature typically results in extra fees.
  • Network mode: Some phones offer a menu option to choose which types of mobile networks the device will automatically contact. Typical choices include LTE, GSM, and Global. Many Android phones use Global by default.
  • Access point names (APN) settings: Each type of mobile phone and service uses a collection of network gateway settings. Phones often organize these settings into profiles. Users who move their phones among different service provider networks will need to work with these APN settings.