The internet doesn't always just work. Try as you might to connect, sometimes airport and hotel Wi-Fi networks won't let you get online or they limit you to just one connection—and, if you're anything like me, your home and office internet always seems to go out at the worst time possible.
Don't fret. Odds are, you have a backup internet connection in your pocket. With one device connected to the internet, you and your family, friends, or co-workers can all use that single connection to get online from multiple devices.
We've used these tricks at hotels where there was only one wired internet connection but needed to get laptops, phones, and tablets online—as well as at conferences where only one phone had cellular data but everyone on the team needed to get things done. And it's the way we get work done at coffee shops when the free Wi-Fi doesn't cut it.
Here's how to share your cellular data or a wired ethernet connection—and make your own Wi-Fi hotspot from any device.
What You Need to Share Your Internet Connection
Good news: every major operating system supports internet sharing today. Have an iPhone, iPad, Android device, Windows PC or tablet, or Mac? All let you easily share your internet connection.
All you need is a way to get online. On your phone or 4G/LTE equipped tablet, you already have an internet connection that's ready to share. Depending on your carrier and region, you may need to purchase an additional mobile hotspot plan to enable data sharing. Otherwise, as long as there's signal, you're ready to go.
On a Mac or PC, if you have a wired internet connection, you can share it with others over Wi-Fi using the same steps. Or, if you have a cellular internet dongle—typically a small USB device with a SIM card slot to add cellular capabilities to computers—you can share that connection over Wi-Fi, too.
Note: Need to share a 4G connection over Wi-Fi often? A better option might be to buy a pocket Wi-Fi (also known as a mobile hotspot) device. They're small devices with their own cellular connection designed to share Wi-Fi with several devices at once. They're especially helpful to stay connected while traveling without draining your phone or laptop battery. Check Wirecutter's mobile Wi-Fi hotspot reviews for best options for the US market, or check with your local carrier for options in other markets.
How to Share Wi-Fi from iOS with Personal Hotspot
Have an iPhone or an iPad with a cellular connection? The built-in Personal Hotspot feature makes it easy to share your connection.
To enable it, open Settings, select the Personal Hotspot option near the top, then tap the slider to turn it on. By default, your device will share the internet over a new Wi-Fi network with your device's name (which you can set it your General -> About -> Name settings) and the password right below the on/off slider.
Once you've enabled personal hotspot, you can quickly turn it on from Control Center in iOS 11. Open Control Center, 3D touch (press hard) on the network options, then tap the Personal Hotspot button to turn it on.
How to Share Your Internet Connection from an iPhone or iPad over Bluetooth
Or you can share your internet over Bluetooth or USB. Here's how:
Enable Bluetooth on both your phone and the computer you want to connect from
Turn on Personal Hotspot from your iPhone settings as before
In your computer's Bluetooth menu, you should see your phone in the devices list. Connect to your phone there, confirm the pin number to connect, then your computer should be online with your phone's internet connection.
How to Share Your Internet Connection from an iPhone or iPad with a USB Cable
Sharing via USB is perhaps the easiest. Turn on the Personal Hotspot feature, then connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer with its USB cable and the computer should automatically connect to the internet. It's really that easy. Best of all, your phone will charge from your computer so you won't have to worry about it draining your computer battery (as long as it's plugged in).
→ Learn more from Apple's iOS Personal Hotspot documentation.
How to Share Wi-Fi from Android with Mobile Hotspot
Your Android phone or tablet comes with a similar feature: Mobile Hotspot. The exact options or steps to get it set up vary depending on your device, but it works the same way, letting you share your cellular connection over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB.
On default Android devices, such as a Nexus device, open the Settings app, select Network & Internet, tap Hotspot & tethering, then select Portable Wi-Fi hotspot. To tweak how it works, select the Set up Wi-Fi hotspot options underneath.
The settings might vary depending on your device. On a Samsung Galaxy S8, for instance, select Connections, then tap Mobile hotspot and tethering (and on an older Samsung device, pictured above, the settings were under Tethering and Mobile hotspot). There, you'll see sliders to enable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB internet sharing to turn on exactly the way you want to share your connection.
If you can't find the setting on your device, check your manual or ask your carrier—you might not see the options if you don't have a plan that supports mobile hotspot.
How to Share Wi-Fi from Windows with Mobile Hotspot
Windows 10 comes with a Mobile Hotspot feature—much like Android—that lets you share the cellular connection from your Surface or other Windows tablet or a wired internet connection from a PC.
Open your PC's Settings from the Start menu, select Network & Internet, then click Mobile Hotspot. There, choose which network to share, and click Edit to set the Wi-Fi network name and password. Then, click the On slider near the top to enable your new Wi-Fi network.
Need to turn on or off the hotspot later? Just open your Wi-Fi network list from your system tray near the clock, and you can toggle the Mobile Hotspot in a click.
Want more options? Install Connectify (from $19.98) to share a Wi-Fi connection on a different network (perhaps to make a separate network for your gaming consoles), use your PC as a repeater to extend your existing Wi-Fi network, and more.
→ Learn more from Microsoft's Windows Mobile Hotspot documentation
How to Share Wi-Fi from macOS with Internet Sharing
Macs don't include cellular internet, but if you have a USB cellular dongle or want to share your wired Ethernet connection, macOS can turn that into a Wi-Fi hotspot, too.
Open your Mac's System Preferences, and select the Sharing options. There you'll see a list of things you can share, from printers to remote login so you can access your Mac when you're away. Near the bottom you'll see Internet Sharing. Click that, then select the network you want to share and how you'd like to share it. Set the network name and password from the Wi-Fi options button. Once you're done, click the checkmark beside Internet Sharing to turn on your new hotspot.
Want to share your internet with an iPhone or iPad, perhaps to download updates more quickly over Ethernet? There's one other option under Content Caching. Select that, then check the Share Internet connection box before checking the Content Caching box. Now, connect your iOS device to your Mac with a USB cable and it'll switch over to your Mac's connection to download content.
→ Learn more from Apple's macOS Internet Sharing documentation.
Now that you know how to share your internet connection, here's how to solve some of your other frustrating personal IT problems:
Need to print stuff? Here's how to make any printer into a smart, Wi-Fi enabled printer with Google Cloud Print.
Giving a presentation? Here's how to share your screen and present with a Chromecast.
Want to use a public Wi-Fi network? Here's how to get a Wi-Fi connection to work when it won't.
Need to back up your computer? Here are the best ways to back up your computer and apps.
Need to fax a document? Here are the best apps to digitally sign and fax documents without needing a fax machine.