Does this sound familiar? You're away from your home or office and need to get your laptop online, but there's no Starbucks or McDonald's in sight!
Fortunately, that Android device in your pocket or backpack can easily be transformed into a Wi-Fi hotspot and get your computer, tablet, or other unnecessary new gadget straight on to the web!
If you have a tethering plan, you can probably just use the hotspot app supplied by your carrier. And that might be all well and good. But what if you are one of the fortunate ones with a grandfathered unlimited data plans from the early smartphone days (the kind your carrier may frown on using as a hotspot)?
Well the good news is you may be able to transfer that data to other devices—and without too much tinkering.
The major carriers are fairly insistent that customers pay a premium for the ability to redirect data to other devices.
Fortunately, there are ways to circumvent these hotspot roadblocks. Android users might choose to root their device and remove all that carrier gabbida gook.
But if you are wary of voiding your warranty (which will happen) or just squeamish about the whole internal re-jiggering process, there are a number of third-party apps available in Google Play that can turn your device into a hotspot, sans-root.
That being said, we must offer a warning: Turning your phone into a mobile hotspot without the additional data sharing fee may break your carrier's Terms of Service—particularly if you have a grandfathered unlimited data plan.
If you have not paid an additional tethering/hotspot fee and the company notices a spike in data usage, you may expect a warning from your carrier to cease your hotspot activity or sign-up for a tethering plan. They may even automatically change your plan.
As its name implies, 1-Click is indeed very easy to set up. Just open up the app and you will be greeted with a very basic list of directions (which you can see to the left).
Once the connected icon is at the top of your screen, your device's wireless data signal is now discoverable to any device around it. Boom.
By default, your phone's Wi-Fi network will be labled "DIY Phone Gadgets" or "1 Click Tether" (in my time with the app, I saw both pop up).
When using the app, my phone was connected to my office Wi-Fi. I found that my hotspot-tethered laptop (which was not connected by any other means) managed to open websites and desktop clients with roughly the same gusto as it did with its plugged-in connection.
The app claims you need the premium Pro version to configure a secured connection, however I was able to establish a secure password-protected WPA2 connection by using the hotspot configure option in the settings menu (this option may not be available in all Android ROMs).
To create a secured connection, click on Mobile Hotspot then Allowed devices. Then, click on the add icon in the top right to identify any allowed devices—you will need to know your device's unique MAC address (a handy guide for locating that can be found here).
Another free option is Toggle Wi-Fi. Toggle is similar to the 1-Click WiFi, except that it comes via a widget, rather than a typical app button.
In order to access the application, go to your add widget window and long press it into your screen.
Once the widget is in place, just tap it to turn on the mobile hotspot. When prompted, it will bring you to a window with basic directions.
Unlike 1-Click, Toggle automatically establishes a network password, which any external device will need to access the connection. So not every lookie-loo in the area can jump on your data.
In my time with Toggle, it took a while to make the hotspot discoverable by my laptop, and the connection proved somewhat slower than with other avenues, but it worked.
PdaNet is a full-throated mobile network connectivity app that also facilitates USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
If PdaNet is not available on your device (it wasn't on mine), the app's Wi-Fi hotspot functionality is available from the same developer in app form via FoxFi. According tothe developer, FoxFi has been removed and blocked by the carriers at various times and has even led to the creation of a version just for Sprint/AT&T users, which is available here.
FoxFi is avaialble as a free version, but it requires users to reestablish their connection after a certain a short time. The beefier (and more stable) Pro version can be purchased in-app or through this key for $7.95. If you do find the app is banned by your carrier, you can still download it through the developers' site (pdanet.co/android/).
FoxFi/PdaNet has a very intuitive interface and allows users to create a password protected WPA2 connection from within the app. In addition, users can use the app as a USB tether or to create a Bluetooth network.
Why are the carriers such jerks?
Why don't carriers want to let you use your data however you want, including tethering your phone to your laptop or setting it up as a hotspot? Aren't you playing for that data, after all?
On one hand, carriers have the prerogative—and one might say obligation—to keep their networks running smoothly, and the extra data use from tethering and hotspots could clog up the pipes. On the other hand, they are corporations with a bottom line to look after and there is plenty of money to be made in additional tethering plans and external Mi-Fi devices.
The carriers have implemented all sorts of ways to block consumers from transforming their device into a hotspot without paying the additional data sharing fee. AT&T in particular has proven fairly dogged (and sneaky) about halting unwarranted tethering.
How does this manifest itslef exactly? I, for example, don't have an additional data sharing option on my plan. So, when I attempt to turn on a mobile hotspot (Settings > Tethering and portable hotspot > Mobile Hotspot), I am greeted with a pop-up that informs me that it must "verify" my device. Then, it prompts me to contact my carrier to enable to hotspot, for which I would have to pay an additional fee.
In the past, the carriers have moved to block hotspot apps from the Play store. This particular strategy got shaken up last year when the FCC slapped Verizon with a fine for banning tethering or mobile hotspot apps on Android devices. Specifically, Verizon wanted to stop users from tethering who had Verizon's grandfathered-in (and no longer available) unlimited data plan instead of the standard $20 monthly sharing fee.
Even though the ruling only affected Verizon, many such apps are now freely available across the Google Play store.
It's nearly impossible to predict what the future holds, but companies like Google are attempting different methods of disrupting the mobile data paradigm. Until then there are fortunately some tools at our disposal to help deal with our carrier overlords.