How do I use my phone’s mobile data on my laptop or tablet?

Setting up a mobile hotspot is pretty easy – once you know how. Here’s how to set it up, and what to check for if things go wrong.

For many of us, the smartphone that we carry around in our pocket or purse every day is our window to the online world.

However, it doesn’t just have to be one window. It’s typically very easy to set up any smartphone as what’s known as a mobile hotspot, sharing your mobile phone’s data connection with any connected laptop, tablet or other Wi-Fi enabled device.

What you’ll need

An Android smartphone
A smartphone – iPhone or Android, it’s all generally good – with a mobile SIM card in it that has some kind of data inclusion on its mobile plan.

A secondary device – a laptop, a tablet, current gaming consoles – that you want to be online with.

How to set up a mobile hotspot with an iPhone

Apple iPhone

  • Open the Settings App – it’s the one that looks like a little rotating cog
  • Tap on the section that says Personal Hotspot and ensure that it’s toggled to “on” – the switch should be to the right for this with green next to it. Like this:
    Personal Hotspot switch on iOS
  • Take note of the Wi-Fi password. If you want to change it, tap on it to then change it to whatever you like. It’s a bad idea to have no Wi-Fi password, or one that’s easily changed, as then anyone could use your mobile data, and sap your phone’s battery while doing so.
  • On your laptop (or tablet, or other device) look for the name of your phone – most likely “YourName’s iPhone”, where the YourName bit is, indeed, your name. So for me, that’s Alex’s iPhone, for you it might be Susan’s iPhone (Hi to all the Susans out there) or… you get the idea, right?
  • When prompted, enter the Wi-Fi password exactly, taking care with capital letters and tricky matters like zeroes and the letter “O”, or ones and the letter “I”.
  • If you’re using a Mac or iPad, you may find that if there’s no other Wi-Fi network it actively asks you if you want to connect, not requiring a password. That’s also a fine way to manage this.

How to set up a mobile hotspot with an Android phone

It’s a little trickier writing a “definitive” Android how to guide, because each maker’s take on how Android looks and behaves is just a little bit different. But the principles are largely the same.

  • Open up the settings app
  • Tap on Network And Internet OR search for “Hotspot” (this often gets past any maker who shifts it to another location within settings)
  • Tap on “Wi-Fi Hotspot”
  • Here you can set your network name – usually the phone make and your name by default, but it does vary and you can call it whatever you like. Bear in mind that this will by default be visible to everyone even if it’s password protected, so a little common sense is wise here. You can also set the password as you prefer, and, again, having a password is a very, very good idea.
  • There should also be a toggle switch for the actual Wi-Fi Hotspot. Toggle this to on, and you’re good to start sharing your phone’s data connection.
  • On your laptop (or tablet, or other device) look for the name of the Wi-Fi network you’ve
  • When prompted, enter the Wi-Fi password exactly, taking care with capital letters and tricky matters like zeroes and the letter “O”, or ones and the letter “I”.
  • Enjoy your shared data access!

Wi-Fi Hotspot: Troubleshooting and other considerations

A woman stares at her phone, looking a little confused.
There are a few catches to be aware of when using your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices.

Firstly, it’s using mobile data. That might sound obvious, but the issue to keep in mind here, especially if you’re on a plan with a low data cap, is that laptop, tablet or other usage can quickly add up, burning through your data cap.

I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, but careful considered use is wise.

Secondly, the power to transmit that data will burn through your phone’s battery rather more quickly than just about anything else you can do with a smartphone.

Even if your phone typically lasts the day on regular use, you’ll usually be lucky to get more than an hour or two of mobile hotspot use before your battery conks out.

Carry a charger or battery pack if you plan on using your phone as a mobile hotspot extensively.

Sharing from a phone to a laptop

It won’t be quite as fast as your phone is for going online. This is essentially a matter of relaying and delays; the phone is getting data from the Internet and then passing it wirelessly to your other device.

There’s going to be some lag inherent there, and you’ve also got to factor in mobile network conditions. If your phone’s access to data is slow because you’re in a mobile black spot, don’t expect miracles from your Wi-Fi hotspot either!

Lastly – and these days this feels rare – you may hit instances where the hotspot area on your phone is greyed out, or the hotspot toggle won’t switch to the “on” position. Typically this is because your telco or plan actively blocks that kind of usage.

Now, I’ve not seen that on an Australian SIM ever than I can think of, but it’s always feasible some small MVNO or another might try it.

I have hit it when travelling, particularly in the USA and when using an iPhone. Sometimes (where feasible) switching the same SIM to an Android phone, with its more open architecture has fixed that problem for me.

Sometimes it hasn’t, and I’ve had to work exclusively from my phone as a result. It may be worth checking with your telco if they do or don’t support a hotspot function if you run into trouble.

How Do I? covers the basics, because we’ve all got to start somewhere.

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