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How to Use Your iPhone’s Personal Hotspot

published by Chand Bellur
May 26, 2019 at 1:58 p.m. PST

Your iPhone’s personal hotspot feature comes in handy when you need a WiFi network. This article demonstrates how to use your iPhone’s personal hotspot.

Table of Contents:

  • What Is a Personal Hotspot?
  • Reasons to Use a Personal Hotspot
  • Personal Hotspot Support and Fees Vary
  • How to Use Your iPhone’s Personal Hotspot
  • Avoid Using Too Much Data on Your Personal Hotspot

What Is a Personal Hotspot?

A personal hotspot provides access to a WiFi network virtually anywhere. The access point uses cellular data to communicate with the Internet, while its WiFi adapter connects local devices.

Personal hotspots are not unique to the iPhone, however, since the feature was created by carriers, its first origins were brand-agnostic. Various smartphones seemed to offer this feature around the same time.

Don’t expect blazing fast speeds with a personal hotspot. When you connect to a typical WiFi network, it usually connects to a wired Internet gateway. Most people get Internet service from their cable company. This is usually much faster than cellular data service. Since a personal hotspot uses a cellular connection to the Internet, it’s usually slower than traditional WiFi networks.

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Although personal hotspots tend to be slower than traditional WiFi networks, you may not even notice. Running Speedtest, I can often get 25 Mbps or more on my iPhone’s personal hotspot. It all depends on where I am. In the SF Bay Area, it’s slow. Southern California offers much faster speeds. Your milage may vary, but you can get decent performance from a personal hotspot. It’s just not as fast as WiFi with a cable modem.

Reasons to Use a Personal Hotspot

A personal hotspot comes in handy when you need to use something other than an iPhone and you don’t have access to WiFi. Let’s face it, as amazing as the iPhone is, it can’t do everything. I often need to use my MacBook Pro to get trivial things done quickly. The personal hotspot allows me to use my MacBook Pro in places where I don’t have access to WiFi.

There are several situations where people find themselves without adequate Internet access. I’ve never stayed in a hotel that had decent Internet access. They often charge exorbitant fees for Internet service that’s unusable. If you travel a lot or a little, it’s often worth using your personal hotspot instead of a hotel’s WiFi.

People who work in the field have fewer options for Internet access. Although many workers can get by with an Internet-connected iPad or iPhone, some tasks require a full computer. Mobile workers can connect their notebook computers to a personal hotspot, enabling a full computing experience. It’s an essential feature for mobile professionals.

If you’re like me, home Internet service is unreliable. In the SF Bay Area, it’s a joke. I found myself using the personal hotspot regularly. I used it so often, I ended up cancelling my home Internet service. Internet access in the SF Bay Area is so bad, it’s one of the major reasons I’m leaving the area. I can’t work on my business (this and another website) without adequate Internet access. Even Bakersfield is better than SF, when it comes to Internet access.

Personal Hotspot Support and Fees Vary

Support for the personal hotspot varies depending on your carrier and plan. Some telecoms, like Verizon, charge extra for the personal hotspot. Combined with high data costs, this makes the feature almost unusable, unless you can expense it. If they charge extra for the personal hotspot, it’s usually less convenient because user interaction is required to set it up. At the very least, you’ll have to use your carrier’s app or website to activate this feature.

Not all carriers charge for the personal hotspot feature. Google Fi provides free access to the feature, without complicated configuration. You only need to turn it on. It’s a big reason why I love Google Fi. I’m moving to Southern California from the SF Bay Area. I use my personal hotspot all the time when I’m up in the Bay Area, tying up loose ends. Google Fi made it effortless and affordable.

Make sure to check with your cellular provider for any fees or configuration effort needed to activate the personal hotspot. If your carrier is charging exorbitant fees with expensive data charges, you may want to switch to a new service.

How to Use Your iPhone’s Personal Hotspot

Aside from any carrier-related complications, setting up your iPhone’s personal hotspot is easy. Simply tap on Settings > Personal Hotspot and turn it on. A generated WiFi password appears, along with instructions for use.

You can change the password on your personal hotspot. I recommend using a complicated, generated password, as WiFi networks are easy to hack otherwise. The Secure Password Generator website does what it claims. It makes it easy to create complicated passwords. I recommend 40 characters, to thwart AirCrack and other hacking tools.

Of course, you’ll need to be able to copy and paste this monstrosity into the password field on your iPhone and any connecting devices. It’s best to generate the password on your iPhone, copy it, and then paste it into the personal hotspot WiFi password field. Next, create a Notes document with your password. You can use this document to copy and paste the password into any device. You can even access Notes on a Windows PC using the iCloud website.

Once activated, Control Center provides easy access to your personal hotspot. Swipe up from the bottom of any screen to launch Control Center on your iPhone. Press and hold on the antenna icon. A detailed wireless communications control panel appears. From here, you can toggle the personal hotspot.

If devices aren’t connecting to the personal hotspot, turn it off and then on again. Yeah, just like Roy from The IT Crowd. You may have to do it a few times.

A personal hotspot can host multiple connections. With a late model iPhone and a fast cellular connection, several devices can connect to one personal hotspot. Some carriers limit the number of connected devices. Check with your cellular provider for more information.

Avoid Using Too Much Data on Your Personal Hotspot

One obvious pitfall of the personal hotspot is that it can devour data, if you’re not careful. Even if you have an “unlimited” plan, most will throttle users after a certain amount of data is consumed. If your plan isn’t unlimited, you may get an unpleasant surprise when the bill is due.

When you use a personal hotspot, it’s best to exercise care. Even if you have a truly unlimited plan, too much network activity can slow down Internet connectivity.

Connecting a computer or tablet to a personal hotspot is always risky. Sometimes computers are configured to download large updates or run backups when connected to WiFi. These connected systems are unaware that you’re using a personal hotspot. They treat it like any WiFi connection. This means you could end up using far more data that you expect.

I connected my Apple TV to my personal hotspot, forgetting that it was configured to automatically update apps. When I checked my data usage, I was shocked to see that I used over 3 GB in one day. I ended up hitting my limit and getting throttled down to 256 kbps. That’s unusably slow!

Use caution when connecting devices to your iPhone’s personal hotspot. Before you connect to the hotspot, make sure any automatic updates are turned off.

On macOS, you can do this by clicking on Settings > Software Update and uncheck “Automatically keep my Mac up to date”. Next, click on advanced and uncheck “Install system data files and security updates”.

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Apple TV owners can turn off automatic tvOS updates by clicking on Settings > System > Software Updates and turn off Automatically Update. You can also switch off automatic app updates by going to Settings > Apps and turning off Automatically Update Apps. Apple TV has one more potential data hog — universal apps. By default, Apple TV will install any app that you’ve installed on your iPhone, if there is a tvOS version. It ends up installing a lot of unwanted apps. You can turn this off by click on Settings > Apps and turn off Automatically Install Apps. These features make sense if you have an unlimited WiFi connection. They can easily get you throttled on a cellular plan. Even worse, you could rack up a massive bill!

For more information on how to prevent unnecessary data usage with your personal hotspot, please read “How to Use Less Cellular Data on Your iPhone”.

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