We all know the drill. Multiple devices, one connection to the internet. Sometimes that’s fine, other times it really isn’t. Consider these scenarios:
– you’re two hours into a 24 hour bus ride and still have some of your phone’s data plan left, but just finished the last book on your wi-fi Kindle
– stuck in the middle of nowhere, you suddenly remember that you really need to get your tax return sent today. The 7-11 will sell you a SIM card for a few bucks, but nowhere in this dusty town seems to have working wi-fi
– you are travelling in a couple or group and have to pay a small fortune for each device that you connect to the hotel’s wireless network.
Luckily there is a way around all of these problems. Mobile hotspots allow you to share one device’s internet connection with several others via an ad-hoc wireless network. Typically you simply configure a network name and password on the device that has an internet connection, then join that network from the rest of the devices.
The devil, as always, is in the detail, so here’s the low down on how to make this remarkably useful technique work for you.
Sharing Your Phone Data Connection
Android phones have had the ability to share a data connection seemingly forever, and Apple enabled it with the release of the iPhone 4 nearly two years ago. Blackberries finally received the functionality at the start of 2012, and a few Windows phones can do it as well.
iPhone 4/4S (and iPad)
Enabling the hotspot is very straightforward, although Apple has disappointingly allowed cellular providers to disable the option if they wish to.
Assuming that doesn’t apply to you, just click on Settings – Personal Hotspot, enter the password you would like to use and then turn the hotspot on.
The network id will be the same as whatever name you have given the phone, so make sure it’s not something too offensive before you go broadcasting it out over the air.
Android (Samsung Galaxy S2)
The exact wording of some of the menu options may differ on different Android devices, but to enable a mobile hotspot on a Samsung Galaxy S2 navigate to:
Settings – Wireless and network – Tethering and portable hotspot – Portable Wi-Fi hotspot settings
Tap on Configure portable Wi-Fi hotspot and enter your preferred network name and password. Keep the security setting at ‘WPA2 PSK’ unless you’re happy to let any passing stranger use your data connection.
Tap ‘Save’ to return to the previous screen, enable “Portable Wi-Fi hotspot” and you’re done.
A little notification icon will appear at the top of the screen whenever the hotspot is enabled.
Bear in mind that using your phone as a mobile hotspot will quickly chew through both battery and data allowances, so make sure you have plenty of both before you start.
Sharing Your Laptop Connection
The ability to create basic mobile hotspots is built into both Windows or MacOS, but is quite limited in both cases. If all that needs to be done is share a wired (ie, ethernet) connection with other devices, however, no additional software is needed. Just set up Internet Sharing (Mac) or Internet Connection Sharing (Windows) and away you go.
More useful, however, is a Windows-only app called Connectify. The free version allows you to share both wired and wi-fi connections, while the Pro version adds the ability to share a 3G/4G modem connection as well.
I have been using the free version regularly for several months and recommend it (although do note that if you only have one wireless card, you’ll need Windows 7 to share an existing wi-fi network).
For those of us who can’t be bothered messing around with software, there is one last option that might be more appealing. A dedicated hardware device, small enough to justify carrying with you and reasonably priced.
One that comes personally recommended is the Asus WL-330GE Access Point. It works similarly to Connectify, sharing existing wired or wi-fi networks, and can also be used as a repeater to boost weak wireless signals.
If you’ve ever had to hang out the window or sit on the balcony in the rain to get a working connection, you’ll appreciate that feature.
At under fifty bucks, it’s a good option for digital nomads and others with multiple devices that need to stay connected.
So that’s how we share our internet connection with multiple devices when we travel. How do you do it?
Laptops image via Adam Tinworth