All Sections

How to turn your Android 2.2 phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot or USB dongle

Just over a year ago, Android 2.2 Froyo was announced by Google at I/O 2010. And, it was also round about this time last year that we got and installed the update on our Nexus One. Time flies huh?

Among the cool things announced like multiple app updating and saving apps to SD cards was the ability to enable Wi-Fi and USB tethering.

In a nutshell, this tethering thingy allows you use your phone’s 3G signal to connect devices like laptops and computers to the internet, either on a wireless Wi-Fi connection or by plugging your phone in and using it like a USB dongle.

It’s really useful if you’ve just moved in to a new flat and you’re waiting for your router/phone line to be activated, or if you’re at a press conference and everyone’s hogging the Wi-Fi – you can simply activate the tethering option on your Android phone, set a password (so no-one else can use it) and connect away.

Of course, how well it works ultimately depends on how good the 3G reception is in your area. But if you can get fair-to-decent 3G in your house, then your Android phone will suffice as an ad-hoc router for the time being.

So, why write up a How To guide on something that you’ve been able to do for about a year?

Well, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, when Android 2.2 hit our Nexus One last year, we were in the minority of people who had it. It was only pushed out to this phone initially, with phones like the HTC Desire getting it later on. Froyo is now very much the norm, with over 64% of Android phones running on 2.2, according to the most recent figures from Google (from 18/05/2011 to 01/06/2011).

Also, I personally can’t count the number of times where I’ve shown Wi-Fi/USB tethering to friends with Android 2.2+ phones and have them say ‘I never knew you could do that!’, or something similar. So this is for you guys and to mark the almost-1-year-anniversary of Froyo. Android 2.2, here’s a belated Happy Birthday to you.

So, without further ado…

Got adequate 3G/HSDPA coverage? Good. You’re all set to go ahead and indulge in some Android tether-fun.

If you’ve got patchy 3G reception or can only get EDGE or GPRS, we’d recommend not tethering if you can avoid it. The reasons for this is because it could end up being potentially costly and it’ll also place extra strain on your phone’s battery. If you do tether without decent 3G, we’d say do so but only sparingly.

Speaking of battery life, you should turn off things like GPS, Bluetooth and auto-sync to save energy – chances are you won’t be needing them while your phone is acting as a router/dongle.

Also while you’re here turn off your phone’s Wi-Fi if it’s on. When you select the option to tether in the next step, your phone should automatically switch it’s own Wi-Fi antenna off, but you might as well do it yourself here if you’re shutting off GPS etc.

Your first port of call once you’ve dived into the Settings menu will be the Wireless & Networks sub menu. This is normally the first option you’ll come to in the Setting menu but not every Android phone has its settings options listed in the same order.

Once you’re here, scroll down until you see the ‘Tethering & Portable Hotspot’ option.

Setting up a Wi-Fi hotspot is a little different to enabling USB tethering, so we’ll deal with that first.

Once you’re in the Tethering & Portable Hotspot menu, check the box makred ‘Portable Wi-Fi hotspot’. When this is activated, you should see a message along the lines of ‘hotspot AndroidAP active’ and a little blue symbol appearing in the status bar at the top.

Your Android phone is now pretty much ready to be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

When you do a search for Wi-Fi points on your laptop (or your friends search for it on their iPhones) you should see ‘Android AP’ appearing in the list of available spots to connect to. You should now be able to right-click and connect to it in the same way that you would an open hotspot anywhere else.

Ok, so your Android phone is now an open hotspot. However, you might want to secure that if you don’t want any old Tom Dick and Harry hopping on and rinsing your 3G allowance for all it’s worth.

Tap on the ‘Portable Wi-Fi hotspot settings’ menu and you’ll see the Configure option.

Here you can change the name/SSID for your hotspot and add a password. Typical password rules apply here; make sure you’ve got at least 8 characters and try to use a healthy mix of numbers and letters. Obviously we wouldn’t use something like ‘passw0rd’ in real life, we’re just using that as an example here in the pic.

Once you’ve done this, anyone trying to access your hotspot will have to know the password before they can access your Android’s Wi-Fi spot.

We’ve used this feature to connect up to 5 devices before at any one time, although obviously the more devices sharing one connection, the slower everything becomes overall.

USB tethering, as you’d imagine, is a much more straightforwards process. You simply plug your Android phone into your computer or laptop with a USB wire and select the relevant check box in the Tethering menu.

No need to mess around with passwords or assigning names to hotspots or anything like that; just a simple, direct connection.

Obviously this also means that only one device can connect to the internet via your phone at any one time.

Currently, tethering only works with machines running on Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Linux – no Windows XP or OS X at the moment. You’ll also not be able to mount your phone’s SD card when in USB tether mode.

Being able to connect to the web via your Android 2.2 phone is great and all, but you’ll need to keep an eye on your data usage if you’ve got a limited data plan. This is especially important right now, where the standard amount of data offered with most contracts and deals is just 500MB.

We’d recommend downloading a data manager app from the Android Market to help with this. 3G Watchdog is one we’ve used before that works well. You simply enter your monthly useage quota (500MB, 1GB, whatever) and set a start date. It’ll then notify you if you’re approaching the end of your allowance.

Data useage monitoring is a feature of the free version of 3G Watchdog which you can download from the Market here. There’s also a pro version you can buy which does away with the free version’s adverts and features a widget you can place on your homescreen.

Generally we’d recommend using Wi-Fi or USB tethering to connect laptops to the web every now and then and as a stopgap in place of a proper home broadband solution. We also recommend sticking to ‘light’ internet use – checking Facebook, train times, Google Maps etc – rather than downloading anything heavy or using a streaming service like Spotify.

Unless you’ve got a heavy data plan that can put up with that level of usage you could run into some rather expensive extra charges at the end of the month.

Comments