If you own a phone or data-based device, you have likely heard about tethering. What does this term mean? How does it apply to you? Also, how can tethering help you get more done? We share all the details about the tech term, along with tips for knowing whether it's best for you.
What does tethering mean?
Tethering is the act of connecting two devices together so that one device can use the data of the other. For example, if you have a tablet that can't connect to wireless internet, you could tether it to your cell phone and use that phone's data plan connection to access the web from your tablet.
What is Phone As Modem?
Tethering allows the main device to be a modem for all of the devices connected to it. For this reason, tethering also goes by the technical term "phone as modem (PAM)." In theory, any device that can connect to your phone can use your phone’s data through tethering.
How to tether to your phone
To access tethering options on your mobile phone or tablet, go to Settings and your Network options or Wireless options. If your phone supports tethering, there will be a hotspot and tethering screen to set everything up. If you don’t see this, your phone doesn’t support this function or your mobile carrier has disabled it. (See more about that below.)
What is USB tethering?
You can access tethering through a few different connection types. One of them is USB. By using a physical cable to connect your phone and the device you wish to tether, you can share the phone’s data in a secure manner that doesn’t require a wireless network. If you're traveling somewhere with no WiFi or your desktop or laptop isn't equipped with a wireless network adapter, this may be your only option to get online. It offers a faster connection between the devices than either a wireless or Bluetooth
Another perk to USB tethering is that your phone or tablet won’t lose battery life while sharing data, as long as your laptop is plugged in. The USB connection also powers the tethered device.
Is Bluetooth tethering possible?
One of the benefits of tethering is that you can extend your data connection from your phone to other devices through a wireless network. If you don't want to use wireless, you can choose to connect with Bluetooth. This type of connection works well with devices that are within close range. Both devices need to be turned on, with Bluetooth enabled and ready for pairing.
The drawbacks are that more than one device can have a serious impact on internet speed for data sharing. It's slower than both wireless and USB pairing as well.
How to use your desktop or laptop as a router with tethering
Tethering isn’t just useful for sharing your phone’s data plan with other devices. It can be used to turn your laptop or desktop into a wireless router. When would this be useful? Imagine you are in a public location where there is a limit of just one device per person allowed to access the wireless network, or a hotel where you are charged by the device on your room bill. If you connect with your laptop, then tether other devices to that laptop, you can use all of your devices through that one network connection.
Here’s how to connect:
- From the Start menu, click on the Settings icon to access Network and Internet settings
- Click on Mobile Hotspot
- Turn on the toggle for Share my internet connection with other devices
- Choose the Share my internet connection option for wireless or LAN. Wireless will be selected by default unless your laptop is connected via an Ethernet cord
- Select your choice of Share my internet connection over Wireless or Bluetooth
- Make a note of the default network name and password, or click Edit to change these to your own
You can now connect any of your other devices through the wireless network or Bluetooth, depending on which one you chose.
What’s the best way to tether?
Tethering offers a versatile approach to sharing data or wireless connections. How you tether depends on a few things, including:
- What networks are available to use, such as a public wireless network or LAN cord
- The technology your laptop or desktop has, including network adapters, Bluetooth cards, or Ethernet ports
- How secure you want your connection to be; some are easier to compromise than others
- How far away your devices are from one another
As you tether more often, you’ll probably come up with a preferred method. Sometimes, it really depends on the situation, what accessories you have on hand, and where you’re located when you want to tether.
Should you tether your device?
Most phones have a tethering option in their software, although it may be called something different such as a mobile hotspot. You’ll find this in your connection settings. You may find that this is disabled on your phone by default unless you have toggled it on. If your wireless carrier discourages tethering as a way of managing data, you won't be able to just switch it on and start sharing data.
Some phone carriers require you to buy an extra tethering feature to share data. Once you do this, the mobile hotspot function should work. Others won't allow it at all, and you'll have to go around your phone manufacturer's basic settings to do this. Note: In some cases, tethering can require you to take steps that will void your phone's warranty or put you in violation of your phone service agreement. Understand what’s allowed under your service agreement before you begin.
Some instructions that you can find online will recommend that you "jailbreak" your iPhone phone or "root" your Android phone by installing an unapproved tethering app through a vulnerability in your phone operating system. Apple and Google are continually updating their software to make it harder to do this. Your safest bet is to find a phone service plan that allows tethering, because it makes it easy to share data without voiding your phone's warranty.