JUN 13, 2024

How to set up your own mobile hotspot

It often feels like Wi-Fi is everywhere these days.

Wander into any shopping center and even before you can see the signs for public Wi-Fi, it’s likely your phone chirp up pretty quickly asking if you’d like to join a few public networks.

Public Wi-Fi can be super handy, but it’s also inherently insecure. You should never do anything of a private nature – especially anything financial – on a network you don’t have some level of control over.

What’s more, in order to keep public Wi-Fi up and running, many networks have seriously crippling data limits, or just run at the speed of treacle even on a good day.

On your phone, you can always switch to your mobile data – but what are you meant to do if you’re using a laptop, tablet or other device that doesn’t have its own data-ready SIM card?

The solution is a mobile hotspot. You can buy dedicated mobile hotspots, which are pretty much just the mobile radio parts of a smartphone plus a battery and a small status screen, but if you’ve got a smartphone, you can instead use that to feed Wi-Fi internet connectivity to your other devices.

That’s because your smartphone can act as a mobile hotspot in its own right, sharing the mobile data connection it has with multiple devices, as long as they’re Wi-Fi capable.

How do I set up my phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot?

The process for sharing your phone’s data with other devices varies just a little depending on whether you’re using an Apple iPhone or one of the many Android phones on the market.

How to set up a hotspot on an Apple iPhone

  • Open the Settings App
  • Tap on “Personal Hotspot”
  • Tap on “Allow Others To Join”

By default your iPhone should create a secure password for you, but you can change it from this screen if you want to. Do NOT leave this blank, because then anyone can connect to your phone and use up your mobile data.

The default name for the Wi-Fi network you create will be the name of your iPhone, typically “Your name’s iPhone” or similar. If you want to change this – whether to make it easier to remember or because you don’t want to broadcast your name out or any other reason, you have to change the name of your phone to do so. To do this, open up Settings, tap on General, then About, then Name. You should see the current name of your iPhone, and you can change it to whatever you like here. Bear in mind that this will also be reflected in other Apple apps such as the Find My app.

If you’re using other Apple gear such as an iPad or MacBook, once you’ve enabled your hotspot, you may get a pop-up window on those devices asking if you would like to join the network. For other devices such as Windows laptops, Android devices or other Wi-Fi capable gear, you should be able to see the network in the list of accessible Wi-Fi networks and connect from there.

How to set up a hotspot on an Android phone

The variety of Android phones makes it a little tricky to write a one-size-fits-all type guide, because different Android models put the hotspot controls in slightly different places within their settings app. I’m going to use a Samsung phone as a guide, but your own phone may use slightly different names for features, or put them in slightly different places.

  • Open the settings app
  • Open Connections
  • Open Mobile Hotspot and Tethering
  • Switch Mobile Hotspot to the “on” position

One tip here that should work across all Android versions is that the Settings app usually allows you to search for functions.

That’ll either be with a blank entry field at the top of the screen, or sometimes a magnifying glass you have to tap on. Enter “mobile hotspot” into this field, and it should find where in the settings the hotspot hides.

From here you can enable the mobile hotspot, and typically also set the name you’d like for your mobile network and its password. Again, do NOT leave the password field empty. While this does allow quick connections because there’s no password check, it also means that anyone can connect to your phone and use up your mobile bandwidth.

Mobile Hotspot tips and tricks

  • Be careful of battery usage: Using your phone as a mobile hotspot uses up battery life at a higher rate, because it’s got to broadcast all those Wi-Fi signals to your connected devices. Prolonged use can both heat up your phone and sap its battery rapidly. Use it sparingly, or carry a portable battery power bank to keep it topped up.
  • Data usage can add up quickly: As far as your telco is concerned, only your phone is connected, so it’s the only space where you may get any kind of data warning. If you’re on a data-limited plan, or one that charges for excess data, you’ll need to check carefully to avoid going over quota.
  • All your speed is shared across every device: When you set up your phone as a mobile hotspot, you’re sharing whatever mobile bandwidth it can access across all the devices you connect to it. So if you move into a spot with poor mobile reception, you can expect connected device speeds to drop as well. Wi-Fi is also prone to a little data speed loss along the way, so don’t be surprised if a connected device runs slower than the same service on your phone.
  • Make sure your telco supports hotspots: It’s really very rare in Australia these days, but if you’re on a very old mobile plan, you may find that the hotspot switch on your smartphone is greyed out and you can’t actually switch it to the on position. That’s most likely blocking of that feature by your telco, so check with them if you’re having trouble. Where this is much more likely is if you’re travelling, as many international mobile providers don’t support hotspots as a matter of course – it’s especially prevalent if you travel to the USA and buy a local SIM to throw into your phone. Ask upfront when buying any international or travel SIM if hotspot features are supported and save yourself stress before you travel.

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Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.