Skip to Content
Tech tips

Ditch shady public Wi-Fi and safely connect to the internet

You can find Wi-Fi networks in most public places these days, but they often aren’t the most secure. To keep your devices and your personal information safe, use your phone as a tether instead to get on the internet when you’re away from trusted Wi-Fi networks.

Public Wi-Fi networks have lax security that allows people to access them easily. This is partly what makes them so risky; the security measures are low. Add to it that anyone can use them at any time, you might stumble across an opportunistic hacker or a carefully placed piece of malware at any moment.

Tethering is a far better way to protect your devices from being accessed by strangers, and therefore a better way of ensuring the personal information on your devices is safe from the world at large.

Keep reading and we’ll explain what tethering is and a few drawbacks to using it (at least none of them are security!). Then, we’ll walk you through how you tether devices to your phone, so next time you want to access the internet in public, you can do so safely and with ease.

What tethering is and why you should use it

Cell phones can connect to the internet through data plans provided by wireless carriers. Data allows you to access the web anywhere, mostly with decent service. This ability allows your smartphones and tablets with data plans to act like modems when you’re out and about.

Using a phone as a modem, a source that generates a Wi-Fi network for other electronic devices is called tethering.

You can tether anywhere you can access the internet through your data plan and you’ll be able to log on safely. Since your phone generates a password when it operates as a modem, it keeps your network and you safe.

Safety isn’t the only benefit of tethering. If you’re on the go in an area that doesn’t have public Wi-Fi networks, you can tether your laptop to your phone and still get online as much as you need to.

You can also save money by tethering, assuming you already have an unlimited data plan or your mobile network doesn’t charge you extra to tether your tablet and laptop to your phone. If you tether your devices, you don’t need to buy a separate mobile broadband service or hotspot plan from a wireless network. Nor do you have to pay for access to a wide network like Optimum Wi-Fi Hotspots.

You just deal with your phone bill, which depending on your plan, might not change much if you tether. On the other hand, needing to buy a hotspot device and a plan to go with it can wrack up charges quickly.

Since tethering can give you internet access when it otherwise isn’t available it’s certainly a great way to connect securely. It does have a few drawbacks. We’ll get into those in the next section.

Drawbacks of tethering

One of the big drawbacks of tethering your laptop to your cell phone is your cell phone’s battery will drain pretty quickly. It takes a lot of power to act as a modem, so if you’re not able to keep your phone plugged in while you use it, you might not be able to be online for very long.

Another consideration when it comes to tethering is it often doesn’t yield the fastest internet speeds. You can definitely do things like access email on a device tethered to your phone, but watching videos or Netflix could be very difficult.

It’s also quite possible that your mobile network will charge you for tethering no matter what. Most of the major networks charge extra for the privilege, so while you’ll still save by not buying a separate hotspot device and plan, your phone bill is likely to go up, particularly if you have to tether regularly.

How to tether another device to your phone

Once you have a phone or tablet with a data plan and a device you want to connect to it, you’re ready to tether. It can be done over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB (when you use the latter two options, you can save your laptop some battery by turning off the Wi-Fi all together).

How you turn your phone or tablet into a modem depends on your mobile network carrier. Here’s how to use most of the major ones:

For AT&T:

Update your data plan to allow tethering, which usually costs about $20 extra a month. You’ll be able to connect to your laptop via Bluetooth or a USB cable, depending on your phone model. You turn your phone into a modem by using the AT&T software on your laptop to initiate your preferred type of connection.

Once that’s done, you’ll be online! It’s important to note that most AT&T tethering plans have data caps, and they charge you when you go over. So be careful about how often you’re tethering and what you’re using it for (videos are big data users, as head’s up!).

For Verizon:

You will need a separate tethering plan for your cell phone and it will also be metered (aka it’s read to see if you’re going over the data amounts allotted to you and if they are, you’re charged extra for that month).

Once you have a plan you like, connect your phone to your laptop via USB and install VZAccess Manager, which can work on Windows and Mac OS. Go into VZAccess Manager and select the options to let yourself get online via the connected cell phone.

Depending on your phone model, you can also go into your network settings and turn on your “personal hotspot” option. With that activated, you can connect devices to it via Wi-Fi, even sharing the network with friends around you.

For T-Mobile:

A $14.99 per month plan gets you Wi-Fi tethering and sharing on your phone, making it one of the cheapest plans offered, even if it’s still an additional charge to your phone bill. To use your T-Mobile phone as a modem, turn on Personal Hotspot or Wi-Fi Sharing, often found under Network settings on the device.

With the name and password generated, connect your other devices to that hotspot network through Wi-Fi. T-Mobile phones can also be connected via USB, and once you download software relevant to your phone and laptop model you can use the phone as a modem that way, too.

For Sprint: 

Unless you’re grandfathered into a tethering plan (which would be something you would’ve most recently gotten in 2008), you need to have a separate Sprint device to use as a modem — your cell phone won’t work that way.

You can get a mobile broadband network card from Sprint, or a separate portable hotspot device and reasonably priced plans for both. But your cell phone can’t be tethered anymore at all, so you’ll need more equipment, in addition to a tethering plan.

Overall, tethering can be a great way to connect to the internet in a variety of situations. All you need is a tethering plan on your mobile network. Once you’re on, the world and the internet are yours to do with as you please.

Stop robocalls once and for all

Robocalls are not only annoying, but they scam Americans out of millions every year. Learn Kim's tricks for stopping them for good in this handy guide.

Get the eBook