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  1. Computer Skills
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Computers

How to Turn an iPhone or a Mac into a Wi-Fi Hotspot

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Although a good public Wi-Fi network is getting easier and easier to find, there are still some times when it’s a struggle to find one to connect to. Fortunately, as long as you have a Mac or iPhone that is connected to the Internet there is a good chance it will be able to share it’s signal with your other devices. 

For example, if an iPhone has 3G or 4G data then you can share it with a Mac by setting up a personal hotspot. Alternatively, if your Mac is connected to the Internet via an Ethernet cable, it can share that with iOS devices over Wi-Fi.

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to turn an iPhone or a Mac into a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can always connect all your devices.

How to Turn an iPhone into a Wi-Fi Hotspot

One of my favourite things about the iPhone is that I’m able to share its 3G data connection with a Mac by tethering it. It’s incredibly useful when I need to do some real work but can’t get to a coffeeshop. or the available public Wi-Fi is awful. 

Although I’m saying iPhone, if you’ve got a 3G capable iPad the process is the exact same.

Whether you're able to create a personal hotspot or not with an iPhone depends on the service plan you’re on. The plan from my network provider draws no distinction between data used by my iPhone and data it shares over a personal hotspot but that is not always the case. 

Some plans, especially in the US, require you to pay extra to be able to share the Internet connection. If the options don’t appear in Settings, it’s probably because your plan prevents tethering the iPhone.

Assuming your particular network provider allows you to share your Internet connection, open the Settings app on the iPhone. Select Personal Hotspot and turn the switch On. By default iOS will create a Wi-Fi password but you can set your own by entering a new one.

personal hotspot
Setting up a Personal Hotspot on an iPhone.

With Personal Hotspot you can share a connection over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB. You’ll need Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on if you want to use them. If they’re not, iOS will prompt you to do so. It’s only possible to share the iPhone’s data connection; you can’t use it as a repeater to share a Wi-Fi connection.

When Personal Hotspot is turned on, it will appear as another Wi-Fi network, albeit a short ranged one, to any devices near by. 

Select the Personal Hotspot Wi-Fi network name from the list and enter the Wi-Fi password. If you want to connect via Bluetooth, pair the Mac and iOS device. 

Similarly, if you want to connect using a USB cable, plug the cable into the two devices. Data sharing will start automatically in both cases.

personal hotspot connecting
Connecting to an iPhone's Personal Hotspot.

Be warned, using an iPhone as a personal hotspot can drain its battery life quite quickly. If you’re planning to use it for a long time, plug it in to either the Mac or a wall socket.

How Turn a Mac into a Wi-Fi Hotspot

Turning a Mac into a Wi-Fi hotspot requires a little more effort because it doesn’t have a data connection of its own. Instead, it needs to be connected to the Internet via Ethernet or through a USB 3G dongle. It can’t share a Wi-Fi network if it’s connected to one.

I find I share my Mac’s Internet connection when I’m in foreign hotels that provide free Internet over an Ethernet port but require you to pay for Wi-Fi. I connect my Mac to the Ethernet port in the room and then use it to share the Internet to all my other iOS devices.

setting up sharing
Setting up Internet Sharing.

To set up a Mac as a Wi-Fi hotspot, go to the Sharing Preference Pane in System Preferences. From the list, select Internet Sharing.

Select the connection you wish to share. I’m using iPhone USB

Select Wi-Fi from the list. To add security to the Wi-Fi network, open Wi-Fi Options and add a password. 

Click the checkbox next to Internet Sharing to start broadcasting the Wi-Fi network. The Mac will now share the network it’s connected to as a Wi-Fi network.

Tip: This can also work in the opposite direction. A Mac can share a Wi-Fi network over Ethernet or a USB wireless dongle.

Wrapping Up

As long as your particular carrier supports it, Personal Hotspot is an incredibly useful feature. If you’re travelling you can pick up a cheap data SIM and use it with an iOS device to provide a Mac with Internet. 

One thing to be careful of is that a Mac can pull down a lot of data very quickly. If you have automatic updates turned on and a fast 3G connection, you can blow through your entire data plan in well under an hour. 

This is something I’ve looked at more in my tutorial on preparing a Mac for travel so if you’re going to be using Personal Hotspot a lot you should check that out too.

Sharing a Mac’s Wi-Fi connection is useful in surprising ways. While I mainly use it while I’m travelling, in the past I’ve used it to provide Wi-Fi to an area of my house that my router didn’t cover well. It’s not something you’ll use all the time but when you find a need for it, you’ll be incredibly grateful for the feature.

If you’ve any questions about sharing Wi-Fi from an iPhone or a Mac, feel free to ask away in the comments. I’m happy to help.

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