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Why Apple’s Personal Hotspot Is a Good Idea—and How to Use It

What is a Personal Hotspot Anyway? 

Do you ever wish you could connect your Mac laptop (or Wi-Fi–only iPad) to the Internet, but without messing around with frustrating—and potentially sketchy—Wi-Fi networks in places like hotels, airports, and libraries? How about in a public park or a school cafeteria?

You can solve this problem in seconds with an iPhone. Your iPhone can use its cellular data connection to create a personal Wi-Fi hotspot that your Mac (or iPad) can connect to. Apple calls this handy feature Personal Hotspot, and it is commonly called tethering. Personal Hotspot is easy to set up and is far more secure than jumping onto random public Wi-Fi networks.

Nowadays most mobile phone plans don’t charge extra for tethering, though if you have an “unlimited” plan, your carrier may throttle your bandwidth if you exceed your usage cap—this is because the carrier doesn’t want you to use tethering as your primary Internet connection. So, before you tether for the first time, it’s a good idea to check with your carrier about charges. And if you use a file sharing service like Dropbox or Google Drive, or an Internet backup service like Backblaze or DollyDrive, turn them off temporarily before connecting. Those services can transfer a lot of data quickly, which could result in a hefty overage charge or awkward data throttling for the rest of the month.

How to Turn on a Personal Hotspot

With those notes out of the way, follow these steps to turn on Personal Hotspot:

  1. On your iPhone, if you’ve never enabled the feature before, go to Settings > Cellular > Personal Hotspot. Once you’ve turned on Personal Hotspot, it moves up a level so you can access it from Settings > Personal Hotspot.
  2. Tap Wi-Fi Password, and enter a simple password that’s at least 8 characters long, consisting of English letters. You may also include numbers and standard punctuation marks, but avoid unusual punctuation, because the iPhone won’t accept it. Your password shouldn’t be trivial (like “password”), but don’t worry about making it strong, since your iPhone isn’t likely to be in a single location long enough for someone to crack it, and you can keep Personal Hotspot off when you’re not using it. But you do want a password so strangers who happen to be nearby can’t connect and use your data allowance.
  3. Once you’ve entered a password, enable the Personal Hotspot switch.
    what-is-a-personal-hotspot

That’s it! The Personal Hotspot screen provides basic instructions for connecting to the iPhone via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB. We use Wi-Fi, since it’s easy and reliable. Depending on your carrier, you can connect a total of three to five devices through Wi-Fi to your hotspot, so you could connect your MacBook and a friend’s iPad, for example.

To connect via Wi-Fi from your Mac, click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar and choose your iPhone’s name. Now, enter the hotspot’s password, making sure to select “Remember this network.” That way, you won’t have to re-enter the password next time. The Mac then connects to your iPhone, showing a hotspot icon instead of the usual wave icon for the Wi-Fi menu in the menu bar.

what-is-a-personal-hotspot

There’s no need to tether a Wi-Fi+Cellular iPad with its own data plan, of course. But if it lacks an active plan, or if it’s a Wi-Fi–only iPad, you can tether it to your iPhone’s hotspot too. Tap Settings > Wi-Fi, make sure the Wi-Fi switch is on, and tap the iPhone’s name. Enter the password when prompted.

what-is-a-personal-hotspot

Once the connection is established, the name of the connected network appears directly below the Wi-Fi switch, with a checkmark at its left. A hotspot icon appears in the iPad’s status bar, at the upper left of the screen.

While tethering, it’s fine to use your iPhone for other tasks—you don’t have to leave the Personal Hotspot screen active. It’s also fine if your iPhone goes to sleep.

When you’re done with a tethering session, to ensure that your devices don’t connect to the hotspot and consume data accidentally, on your iPhone, go to Settings > Personal Hotspot and turn off the Personal Hotspot switch. Your Mac and iPad will disconnect automatically.

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