Everything you need to know about wireless hotspotting

With so much unused data as part of a lot of people’s monthly data caps, wireless hotspotting is a way to put some of that gathering-dust data to use.

May 24, 2022
4 min read

According to the ACCC’s Communications Market Report 2020–2021, Australian mobile users are buying more data than they’re using. At the time of the report, the average SIM Only/Postpaid user only went through 11.8GB of data a month compared to the 35GB median data allowance. For Prepaid users, it was 6.3GB per month compared to a 30GB median data allowance.

That’s a lot of spare gigabytes going to waste. Thankfully, wireless hotspotting is a great way to put those extra gigabytes of potentially expiring data to use.

Stock photograph of personal hotspot

What is a mobile hotspot?

Using your Android phone or iPhone as a mobile hotspot lets you share the data from your mobile plan with other devices. Most modern phones support hotspotting. Activating the hotspot feature effectively turns your phone into a mobile WiFi modem, with its own network name (SSID) and password.

Bullhorn
Mobile hotspotting vs tethering
Whether or not you choose to tether or not, hotspotting and tethering achieve the same goal—sharing the mobile data of a phone—but they do so in different ways. Put simply, tethering is designed to share mobile data with a single device (which makes it inherently more secure)—even certain routers like the Synology RT6600ax—while hotspotting is meant for sharing mobile data with multiple devices. Hotspotting works via WiFi, whereas tethering is achieved via Bluetooth, USB or Ethernet (with the right adapter). Generally, tethering provides a more reliable connection that uses less data. Meanwhile, hotspotting is easier and may use more data.

How to activate a mobile hotspot

There may be slight differences between specific phone models and operating systems, but here are the general steps for activating hotspotting and turning your phone into a mobile WiFi device.

Activate mobile hotspot on iPhone

Follow these general steps to activate WiFi hotspot on an iPhone:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Select the ‘Personal Hotspot’ option.
  3. Enable the ‘Allow Others to Join’ option.
  4. Enter a preferred password for the hotspot.

Activate mobile hotspot on Android

Follow these general steps to activate WiFi hotspot on an Android phone:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Select the ‘Network and Internet’ option.
  3. Tap on ‘Hotspot and tethering’.
  4. Select ‘WiFi hotspot’, then turn it on.
  5. Optionally, change the name and password for your hotspot, then save the changes.
Info Box
Choosing a hotspot password
There’s no denying the convenience of wireless hotspotting, which may tempt you to also create an easy-to-remember password. We’d advise opting for a longer, randomised and more secure password over something short and easy to recall. Definitely avoid the most popular passwords of recent times, including 123456, 123456789, 12345, qwerty and password. You can always check the password on your device if you forget it and show it to anyone who you actually want to share mobile data with. Better yet, use a password manager to generate and store secure passwords, including hotspot passwords. At the end of the day, you don’t want the convenience of sharing data to be ruined by someone easily accessing your mobile data or info via hotspotting.

How to connect to a mobile hotspot

Connecting to a mobile hotspot is as straightforward as connecting to any WiFi network. Simply bring up your WiFi networks and tap on the name that matches the hotspot on your mobile phone. Punch in the correct password, wait a few seconds for the WiFi connection to authenticate, and then you’re ready to use the internet on any WiFi device you like.

Mobile hotspot speeds

You shouldn’t expect mobile speeds to be as reliable as those you’ll find when connected to an NBN plan at home. Mobile speeds are determined by a variety of factors, including the network you’re using (Telstra, Optus or Vodafone), the signal reception, mobile tower congestion, and how many devices are connected to your mobile hotspot.

Mobile 4G internet, for instance, can technically reach speeds of 100Mbps download and 50Mbps upload, but you’re unlikely to see those speeds during practical everyday scenarios. Similarly, those in an area with 5G coverage (using a 5G-compatible handset on a 5G plan) can theoretically reach speeds of 1000Mbps download and 100Mbps upload, but that’s also unlikely in practical settings.

If you’re curious about speeds, it’s best to run a WiFi speed test initially, as long as you don’t mind using a bit of data to run the test, and you’ll see what kind of download and upload speeds you’re working with. While max-speed 5G is recommended for five or more users and max-speed 4G is best for three or four people, those counts drop the slower the speeds. For example, 50Mbps download speeds are best for three or four people, but 25Mbps is only recommended for a couple of users.

Mobile hotspot data-saving tips

The biggest challenge with a mobile hotspot is ensuring you don’t inadvertently blitz through your data, particularly if you’re on a Prepaid plan or a SIM Only plan that doesn’t throttle speeds once you reach your data cap (though slow speeds aren’t ideal, either). The easiest way to get around this is to set data alerts on your phone or activate data-saver features to help keep data usage low.

If you’re using a mobile hotspot to browse the web with a bit of instant messaging and maybe some music streaming thrown in, you shouldn’t expect to use a whole lot of data per hour. That said, watching lots of videos or using streaming services like Netflix or Kayo can make those gigabytes disappear incredibly fast. For video streaming, check for options that let you lower the quality to save data if you don’t have enough monthly mobile data for better quality.

This logic also applies to anyone else you share your hotspot password with, as anyone connected to your mobile phone is pulling from the same speed and data pool.

Mobile 4G internet, for instance, can technically reach speeds of 100Mbps download and 50Mbps upload, but you’re unlikely to see those speeds during practical everyday scenarios. Similarly, those in an area with 5G coverage (using a 5G-compatible handset on a 5G plan) can theoretically reach speeds of 1000Mbps download and 100Mbps upload, but that’s also unlikely in practical settings.

If you’re curious about speeds, it’s best to run a WiFi speed test initially, as long as you don’t mind using a bit of data to run the test, and you’ll see what kind of download and upload speeds you’re working with. While max-speed 5G is recommended for five or more users and max-speed 4G is best for three or four people, those counts drop the slower the speeds. For example, 50Mbps download speeds are best for three or four people, but 25Mbps is only recommended for a couple of users.

Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence
Nathan Lawrence has been banging out passionate tech and gaming words for more than 11 years. These days, you can find his work on outlets like IGN, STACK, Fandom, Red Bull and AusGamers. Nathan adores PC gaming and the proof of his first-person-shooter prowess is at the top of a Battlefield V scoreboard.

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