One of the most common questions asked about mobile computing is how to connect a cell phone to a laptop for Internet access. Although tethering isn't very difficult to accomplish, the answer is a bit tricky because wireless carriers have different rules and plans for allowing (or not allowing) tethering, and cell phone models also have different limitations. When in doubt, it's always best to refer to your service provider and handset manufacturer for instructions ... but here's some information just to get you started.
What You Need
To use your cell phone as a modem, you need the following:
- The device you want to be able to go online with, of course (i.e., your laptop or tablet)
- A data-capable cell phone that you'll use as the modem (i.e., the cell phone should be able to go online on its own)
- A data plan for the phone from your wireless provider. Most cellular providers these days require you to have a data plan for your smartphone anyway, but regular (or feature) phones may also be web-capable and therefore can also act as modems for your laptop. You'll need to have a data plan for the phone, whether it's a cell phone or smartphone.
There are a few ways to use tethering so you can go online from your laptop (or tablet) using your cell phone's data plan.
- Tethering plans from your wireless carrier: This is the official way to get tethering. The major wireless providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile) require you to have data plans that cover tethering or sign up for a separate hotspot plan. Once you've signed up for one of these plans, you can connect over bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or USB (see the links below for instructions for your carrier).
- Apps: There are several mobile apps for tethering Android and other smartphones; some are free, with full versions of these apps priced $10 and $30. For that price you get an easy way to connect your laptop to your smartphone over USB or bluetooth and use your smartphone's data service on your computer, bypassing carrier tethering fees perhaps. PdaNet is a popular tethering app for most platforms, and we have step-by-step instructions for tethering your Android phone to your laptop.
- Jailbreaking for iPhone users: Apple pulls tethering apps from the iTunes store, but users who don't mind bending the rules can jailbreak their iPhones to use PdaNet too.
Tethering Instructions by Wireless Carrier
Find your provider below to get information on whether they allow tethering and how much it costs. If you're in the market for new cell phone service, read through all the profiles to find out which cell phone company is the most flexible when it comes to tethering.