Just as you can use the iPhone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, many Android smartphones and tablets, starting with version 2.2 (Froyo) can be used as mobile hotspots or portable Wi-Fi hotspots, letting you share your data connection on your Android device wirelessly with up to 5 other devices, including other cell phones, tablets, and computers. The Wi-Fi data sharing feature is built into the Android devices.
This is more convenient than traditional tethering where you would share a data connection with a single computer using a USB cable or bluetooth, possibly with the help of software like PdaNet. Using the portable Wi-Fi hotspot feature, you don't need to have the app installed on your laptop or other devices and you get simultaneous Wi-Fi internet access for several devices. The downside, however, is that your carrier may charge a fee for the Wi-Fi hotspot feature (but most are charging extra for tethering too, so they're really the same thing).
Using your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot is pretty simple; you just need to turn the feature on in your phone, and then the Wi-Fi signal will appear just like a regular wireless access point that your other devices can connect to. Here are the step-by-step instructions (they may vary a bit depending on your device, but the overall gist is the same).
Updated: Workaround for Enabling Wi-Fi Hotspot for Free on Carrier-Restricted Plans
The instructions below are for the universal Wi-Fi hotspot feature found in Android, but even if you follow them you might not get internet access on your laptop or tablet after you connect. The reason is that some wireless carriers restrict the Wi-Fi Hotspot access to only those who are paying extra every month for Wi-Fi Hotspot access ($15-30 more a month on top of their mobile data plans).
Computerworld has posted a workaround to this Wi-Fi hotspot blocking: Use an Android widget app such as Extended Controls or Elixer 2, which toggle the Wi-Fi hotspot on or off on your homescreen so you can access the hotspot feature directly (without going through extra charges from your wireless provider). If that widget doesn't work for you, a free app called FoxFi does the same thing. Note that with other kinds of tethering, this is definitely a "do at your own risk" procedure.
That said, if you aren't restricted from using the Wi-Fi hotspot feature on your Android device, this is how to enable it and share your mobile data plan:
Turn on the Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot on your Android smartphone (or tablet)
- Go to the Settings screen on your Android phone. You can get there by pressing the menu button on your device when you're on the home screen, then tapping "Settings".
- At the Settings screen, tap the "Wireless & networks" option.
- You should see an option for "Portable Wi-Fi hotspot". Click the check mark beside it to turn on the hotspot and your phone will start acting like a wireless access point. (You should see a message in the notification bar when it's activated.)
- To adjust and check the settings for the hotspot, tap the aptly named "Portable Wi-Fi hotspot settings" option. You'll need to do this if you don't know the default password that will be created for your hotspot so you can make a note of it for connecting your other devices.
- You can change the default password, security level, router name (SSID), and also manage users connected wirelessly to your phone in the Wi-Fi hotspot settings.
Find and Connect to the New Wi-Fi Hotspot Created
- From each of the other devices you want to share Internet access with, find the Wi-Fi hotspot; this will probably be done automatically for you. (Your computer, tablet, and/or other smartphones most likely will notify you that there are new wireless networks to connect to. If not, on another Android phone, you'll find the wireless networks under Settings > Wireless & networks > Wi-Fi settings. See general Wi-Fi connection instructions for most computers.
- Finally, establish the connection by entering in the password you noted above.
Tips and Considerations
- Make sure you turn off the Wi-Fi hotspot feature when you no longer need shared Internet access from the other devices, since this can drain your cell phone's battery significantly.
- By default, the portable Wi-Fi hotspot will most likely be set up with WPA2 security and a generic password. If you're using this feature in a public place or concerned about hackers trying to intercept your data, it's best to change the password to something else before broadcasting your signal.
- Keep in mind again that your cell phone company might charge extra for this feature and/or have data restrictions on its usage, so make sure you check your plan or with your carrier for more information.