Have you ever wished you could share your iPhone's 3G/4G cellular connection with Wi-Fi-only devices nearby, such as laptops and non-cellular iPads? You're in luck: it's easy to set up an iPhone as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, opening up its web connection to anyone who is close enough and has the password. Here's how.
Should I create a Wi-Fi hotspot with my iPhone?
Let's say you're travelling with your iPhone, and a MacBook or Wi-Fi-only iPad, and want to do some work. At this point you've got two options: do the work on the larger-screen devices, but without being able to connect to any online resources; or go online but be stuck with a smaller screen.
Turning your iPhone into a Wi-Fi hotspot gives you a handy third option, allowing the laptop and tablet to piggyback on the phone's web connection. Wi-Fi hotspots are great for working on the go.
It's easy to turn your iPhone into a hotspot, but you may wish to check with your phone carrier first or at least check your contract's terms and conditions; while most networks will include Tethering as part of your plan, some networks prefer you not to do this and may charge you extra (or cap your data allowance) if they spot you setting up a hotspot. For example, a network may include Tethering as part of your data allowance if you are pay monthly, but if you are on PAYG you might have to pay extra.
And while we're talking about data allowances, this is another thing to bear in mind: if you have a limited allowance you should only use the Wi-Fi hotspot for a short while. Be aware that your Mac or PC might gobble through data at a rapid rate compared to if you were just surfing on your iPhone.
How to turn on hotspot on an iPhone
Creating a hotspot turns the iPhone into a Wi-Fi router, much like the one in your home. The iPhone connects to the internet using its 3G/4G cellular data connection, and then broadcasts this via a Wi-Fi connection that your Mac, iPad, PC, or other device, can connect to. You can also create a wired connection to your computer's USB port.
Note that once your hotspot is turned on your iPhone will be using 3G or 4G for its data connection. That fact is pretty obvious, but it's worth mentioning because you might log onto a hotel Wi-Fi with your iPhone and think you can share it that way: you can't.
There are two ways to create your hotspot on your iPhone.
Turn on an iPhone hotspot - the quick way
If you have iOS 13 installed on your iPhone the quickest way to turn on a Hotspot is to do this:
- On an iPhone X, XS, XR, 11 drag down from the top corner to bring up the Control Centre. On an older iPhone swipe up from the bottom to open Control Centre.
- Press hard inside the block of four icons representing Airplane mode, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
- This will open a larger block of icons, including AirDrop and Personal Hotspot. Just tap on the Personal Hotspot and it will become 'Discoverable'.
Turn on an iPhone hotspot via Settings
In older versions of iOS it's not possible to turn on a Hotspot from inside Control Centre. The Hotspot could only be set up within settings. Hotspots can still be turned on vis Settings in iOS 13, but it works in a slightly different way.
In iOS 13
- Open Settings
- Tap on Personal Hotspot (below Mobile Data/Cellular Data). This will automatically turn on your Hotspot in iOS 13.
- New options in iOS 13 include the new option to 'Share Personal Hotspot with members of Family Sharing' and 'Allow Others to Join'. If you want to create a Hotspot you will need to Allow Others To Join - even if you aren't planning to let others join. Your Hotspot will automatically become 'discoverable' but others will need to enter a password in order to join your Hotspot.
- You, and anyone you are Family Sharing with in iOS 13, will automatically be able to log onto your Hotspot without needing this password: hence the new Family Sharing tab. Tap on that and you will see the option to allow other family members to join your Hotspot. You can choose between Ask for Approval or Automatic, to determine how they will join your Hotspot. You and your family members will be identified by iCloud collaterals.
Read about other iOS 13 features we love here.
Pre iOS 13
- Open the Settings app, then tap on Mobile Data/Cellular Data. (In iOS 10 or later. In some older versions of iOS you just select Mobile/Cellular.)
- Tap Personal Hotspot, and set Personal Hotspot to On. (Tap the slider so it turns green.)
- If Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth are off, iOS will ask if you want to turn them back on. We'd recommend doing so - without them, the hotspot will be limited to USB. (Which is more secure.)
- Tap 'Wi-Fi Password' and enter a suitable password. (This isn't related to your Apple ID or usual Wi-Fi connection.)
- Now check the name of the hotspot listed under To Connect Using Wi-Fi (in our example it's "David's iPhone").
How to connect to an iPhone hotspot from a iPhone or iPad
Connecting an iPhone or iPad to a hotspot is simple. Follow these steps:
- While sharing your hotspot from your iPhone, open the second iPhone, or iPad open Settings.
- Tap on Wi-Fi.
- Various Wi-Fi networks will show up. These should include the Hotspot created by the iPhone. Select that hotspot.
- You may need to log on (depending on the version of iOS you are running). If you need the password look on the Hotspot sharing iPhone. You'll see it in Settings >Personal Hotspot (or Settings > Mobile Data > Personal Hotspot.
You will now be connected to the web via that iPhone's data connection.
If you are connecting to a Hotspot being broadcast by your own device, then any other device you own should connect without a password, as long as you are logged into iCloud. If you are running iOS 13 and use Family Sharing you will automatically connect to a family member's Hotspot (and they to yours) without requiring a password.
in iOS 13
We love this new feature in iOS 13 for changing the WiFi network you are connected to:
- Open Control Centre on your iPhone (drag down from top right or swipe up from bottom depending on which iPhone you use).
- Press and hold on the group of icon that includes the Wi-Fi icon.
- Now press and hold on the Wi-Fi icon.
- Voilà! A new screen opens with all the Wi-Fi networks in the surrounding area, so you can choose the one you want.
How to connect to your iPhone hotspot from a Mac
Now you are sharing your hotspot from your iPhone you can easily connect to it from a Mac. Here's how:
- Click the Wi-Fi icon in your Mac's Menu bar. You will see a number of Wi-Fi networks it can see locally. Turn on Wi-Fi if necessary.
- In your Personal Hotspots section you should see your iPhone's Hotspot (if you don't have a section for Personal Hotspot you should find it below). Choose it.
- If you are using iOS 13 your Mac should connect automatically, as long as you are signed in to iCloud, otherwise, enter the password as shown in the Personal Hotspot section on your iPhone.
If you haven't got the Wi-Fi icon in your Mac's menu bar, open System Preferences and click Network. Select Wi-Fi in the list on the left. Choose the iPhone hotspot from the Network Name dropdown menu.
While you're here, you should place a tick next to 'Show Wi-Fi status in menu bar'.
You can now browse the internet on your Mac or iPad using the data connection from the iPhone. Your mileage may vary, however, depending on how good the iPhone's network connection is. You might find the internet runs a little slower than you're used to.
When you've finished, don't forget to tap Settings > Mobile > Personal Hotspot on your iPhone and set it to Off.
What if your Mac won't connect to your Wi-FI hotspot?
We had an issue connecting our Mac to the Wi-Fi hotspot created by our iPhone. It eventually fixed itself, which could suggest that there was an issue with iOS 13 that was stopping Hotspot sharing from working.
We had the options to Run Diagnostics. The wizard ran various diagnostic tests on our Mac before creating a diagnostics report.
You could also take a look at our article explaining what to do if your WiFi isn't working on your Mac.
How to connect to your iPhone hotspot from a PC (Windows)
Once you are sharing your hotspot from your iPhone you should be able to see the Wi-Fi hotspot and connect to it via your PC.
- Start by turning Wi-Fi on.
- Then clicknon the Wi-Fi icon in the taskbar.
- Choose your iPhone.
- Click Connect.
Enter the password.
How to connect to your iPhone hotspot via Bluetooth
You could calso onnect using Bluetooth. You will need to pair your iPhone and your computer using a code.
- On a Mac you will need to open System Preferences > Bluetooth > Turn Bluetooth On look for your iPhone and click connect.
- On a PC you will need to click on Join a Personal Area Network > Add a Device, and choose the iPhone from the devices shown.
How to connect to a iPhone hotspot via USB
You can also connect directly to your iPhone from your Mac using a USB-cable, which might be the best option for you if you are somewhere where there are a lot of competing Wi-Fi networks or because you don't feel that it would be secure to broadcast your connection (although nobody should be able to piggy-back it without a password), it may also be faster to use a USB connection than Wi-Fi. Here's how:
You'll need the latest version of iTunes on your Mac (once Catalina launches this will no longer be necessary as your iPhone will be managed via the Finder).
Connect the iPhone to your Mac using the USB cable the iPhone shipped with (this will be a USB cable - if your Mac has USB-C you will need an adapter).
You should see a warning asking if you "Trust This Computer". Click on Trust.
Now choose your iPhone from the list of networks you can see when you click on the Wi-Fi logo in your menu bar.
Dangers & warnings
What if someone tries to hijack your connection, burning through your data connection and/or accessing dodgy sites and content?
You should be okay, because the iPhone hotspot is password-protected. (All the more reason not to choose the word "password" or something else that's easily guessed.) And you'll see a small notification at the top of your iPhone's screen when a device accesses its hotspot, so you'll get a warning if someone in your train carriage does manage to guess your password.
A more important warning concerns data limits on your own surfing. It's easy to forget, when accessing the web over a device that's normally limited to Wi-Fi connections, that you're working against a 3G or 4G data limit. Remember that you're on the clock, so to speak, and we'd suggest avoiding downloading large apps and similar.