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How to Share Your Smartphone’s Internet Connection with Tethering

The Wi-Fi connection on your laptop or tablet isn’t too helpful when you’re not in range of a hot spot. So what can you do when you find yourself in a Wi-Fi deadzone, and you need to connect? If your smartphone supports it, you can tether it to a laptop or a tablet to share your Internet connection.

Most modern smartphones – including the iPhone, Android phones, Windows Phones, and fairly current Blackberry’s – have built-in capabilities to tether their cellular connection with other devices. There are three technologies that can be used to do this.

Your first choice is to use a wired solution. Connect the two devices together with the USB cable that’s designed to sync your smartphone to your laptop. Then access your computer’s networking control panel to activate the connection. This cable solution won’t work to tether your tablet, but there are two wireless tethering solutions for that: Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

Your second choice, Wi-Fi, is the most commonly used and versatile tethering option.  You can turn your smartphone into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. Then you just connect with your mobile device’s Wi-Fi port, and you can tether multiple devices at once. Be careful when using this option, though – Wi-Fi tethering drains battery power, so you might want to buy a power adapter for your car and charge your smartphone while this is active. Passengers in the car with you can also connect their devices to this mobile hotspot.

Your third choice, Bluetooth, is more commonly used to connect a phone wirelessly to a headset, but it can also be used to share a data connection. To use Bluetooth you simply toggle on Bluetooth on both devices and pair one to the other.

This is not an ideal strategy because Bluetooth’s data bandwidth is a fraction of Wi-Fi’s data capacity, but it works in a pinch. The upside is Bluetooth has a leaner power profile so it consumes less battery power. It’s also always available for a connection, whereas Wi-Fi hotspots power down after a short time if no devices connect. It also has a shorter range than Wi-Fi — about 30 feet.

The Bottom Line
It’s important to remember that tethering increases data usage, so watch closely to make sure you don’t exceed your mobile data plan and incur extra costs. Most phones can display 3G or 4G data consumption. If you have a lean data plan, avoid downloading large files or watching video. If you plan to use tethering often, consider upgrading your data plan so you can tether freely. Also be sure to check roaming rates if you travel to the U.S. or internationally to avoid sizeable, unwanted data roaming charges.

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