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Home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically. But sometimes events out of our control, like power outages and disastrous winter storms, happen and (gasp) prevent us from connecting to the rest of the world.

In those cases, if you can refresh your Instagram feed, you can create a hotspot to share your precious cellular data with other devices. You may not be able to watch Netflix, play your favorite cloud-based video games, and livestream your dire situation to your friends on TikTok. But it’ll be enough to stay informed, ask for help if necessary, and keep your spirit up with memes on Reddit or Twitter.

Keep in mind that the data you share will eat away from your monthly quota. Once those gigabytes run out, you’ll either be cut off completely or stuck with snail-speed browsing, which only allows basic functions such as messaging, emailing, and loading simple web pages.

How to set up a secure hotspot

A number of factors, including what kind of device and data plan you have, will determine what menus and options you’ll need to navigate to set up your hotspot. However, there are some general guidelines that you’ll need to keep in mind to enable it securely. Otherwise, strangers could run off with your data.

Name your hotspot

This might seem obvious, but naming your network will make it easier for other devices to find it and connect to it. On Android devices, you’ll find the relevant field in the Hotspot & tethering options. If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, your new network will match your device’s name, but you can change it by going to Settings, General, and tapping About.

Secure your hotspot with a password. A good one.

We’ve told you time after time to secure your accounts with strong, unique passwords, and yes, we’re doing it again. You seriously want to protect your hotspot with a secure password, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

[Related: You should start using a password manager]

Most importantly, when you tether your device to another (regardless of whether you’re sharing or joining), you’re opening yourself up to potential cyber attacks. This is why you only want to link up with people and devices you trust. Creating a hotspot anybody in range can connect to is like declaring your home bathroom a public restroom—and you don’t need us to advise you against that.

Also, devices tethered to your phone use your data plan. That means whatever they’re doing—streaming a Netflix movie in ultrahigh definition, updating their operating system, watching endless hours of TikTok—they’re doing on your buck. If you have an unlimited data plan, you may not think this is a problem, but some carriers don’t even allow hotspot capability with this type of plan unless they’re specifically advertised (and priced) for it.

You’ve probably also heard you’re not supposed to repeat any of your passwords if you want to keep your data safe. We won’t judge you if you generally ignore that advice, but having a new, strong password each time you set up a hotspot is particularly important.

Some devices automatically save Wi-Fi credentials and connect to known networks as soon as they’re in range. If you shared your data with a friend one time, their device probably still knows how to tether to yours. And if they have configured their phone to update apps only while on Wi-Fi, you may have to kiss your data goodbye. If you can, tether your devices with a USB cable for extra security, and when you’re done sharing, do not forget to turn your hotspot off.

Know your battery will drain quickly

Tethering takes power. A lot of it. If you turn your phone into a hotspot, don’t expect it to stay alive as long as it usually does. To save it from an early death, make sure to have a charger on hand so you can plug your device in when you’re done.

[Related: Extend your phone’s battery life with these four easy steps]

How to turn your mobile device into a hotspot

Person sharing data from mobile phone to laptop.
Using a USB cable provides a more reliable and secure connection. Christina Morillo / Pexels

No matter your operating system, both Android and iOS have made it fairly easy to share your precious data with your friends and other not-so-well-connected devices.

On Android

If your phone or tablet uses Google’s operating system, activate a hotspot by going to Settings, then Network & internet, and tapping Hotspot & tethering. There, you’ll see options to enable a Wi-Fi Hotspot (tap on it to find an on-off toggle switch), or tether your smartphone to another device via Bluetooth, a USB connection, or an ethernet cable. These last two options will only be available when your phone detects a cable plugged to it.

Once you tap the toggle switch on, up to 10 people can hop on your connection by entering your password or scanning a unique Android-generated QR code. You’ll also have the option to turn off hotspot automatically when there are no devices connected. This will prevent you from accidentally leaving it on for hours or even days on end.

On iOS and iPad OS

On iPhones and iPads, setting up your hotspot is simple. Turn on your hotspot by going to Settings, Cellular and then Personal Hotspot, and tap the slider next to Allow Others to Join. There, you also can set up a password.

If you have an older version of iOS, your phone will automatically terminate the hotspot connection when the device you’re tethered to locks itself. Newer versions, starting with iOS 13, don’t do this. Another caveat is that there’s not a set number of devices that can connect to your iPhone or iPad at once—the limit depends on what model you have.

[Related: Your guide to all the security settings in iOS 14]

Turn your computer into a hotspot

If you have a Mac computer or have updated your Windows 10 PC within the last five years, you have built-in functionalities for sharing data. However, if you have an older version of Microsoft’s operating system, things can get a bit more complicated.

On Windows

This OS debuted its integrated hotspot feature in 2016, with the release of the Anniversary update (version 1607) of Windows 10. If you have that or a later edition, you can share your computer’s internet connection by going to Settings, Network & Internet, and clicking on Home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically. But sometimes events out of our control, like power outages and disastrous winter storms, happen and (gasp) prevent us from connecting to the rest of the world.

In those cases, if you can refresh your Instagram feed, you can create a hotspot to share your precious cellular data with other devices. You may not be able to watch Netflix, play your favorite cloud-based video games, and livestream your dire situation to your friends on TikTok. But it’ll be enough to stay informed, ask for help if necessary, and keep your spirit up with memes on Reddit or Twitter.

Keep in mind that the data you share will eat away from your monthly quota. Once those gigabytes run out, you’ll either be cut off completely or stuck with snail-speed browsing, which only allows basic functions such as messaging, emailing, and loading simple web pages.

On Mac

Apple has long had a hotspot feature, so you won’t have to look up your version of macOS. To enable it, go to System Preferences, then to Sharing, and click on Internet Sharing. There, you can edit the name of your computer so other devices can find it more easily.

You can also choose what connection to share and what protocol you use. The only downside is that these two cannot be the same. For example, if you’re connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, you’ll only be able to share your connection via Bluetooth, USB, Thunderbolt, or Firewire, depending on what’s available for your device.

Plan ahead with a mobile hotspot

If you need a more reliable connection that allows for more devices and doesn’t fry your phone’s battery, your best bet is to get a mobile router. These devices are basically a standalone version of your smartphone’s hotspot and use mobile data to create a Wi-Fi signal other devices can connect to. You probably won’t be able to buy one the moment a storm takes out your electricity, but it’s worth considering if you’re planning ahead.

The main upside to having one of these gadgets is that they allow between five and 20 connections at once depending on the model, and their battery life is much longer—some manufacturers advertise up to 20 hours, though sites like Wirecutter have found those times may not play out in practice. Still, it’s not a bad deal if your town is suddenly buried under 5 feet of snow.

[Related: Better internet could be a simple router upgrade away]

You’ll often find carriers selling mobile hotspots with a two-year data plan, which can be a great solution if you travel often. But if you just want to have a backup in case of an emergency, paying a monthly bill isn’t a good deal. Instead, you should buy a mobile router, load it with a prepaid SIM card, and activate it when everything goes dark. That last part may be tricky if you have bad reception or a weak data connection, but it can save you from adding another monthly bill to your probably already long roster.

Mobile hotspots can cost anywhere from $60 to $300, depending on how many devices you can connect at once, and what speed you want. Those on the higher end of the spectrum can give you 4G or 5G connectivity, while cheaper models will let you browse at a maximum speed of 150 megabits per second (Mbps).

When it comes to choosing your SIM card, make sure it’s data only. Google Fi is a great option—it’s $8.50 on Amazon and you get $10 credit on your first bill. Straight Talk also has different prices, ranging from $15 to $75 depending on what speed you want. Once you activate these cards, you’ll have 30 days to use the data you purchased. After that, they’ll cut you off. If that isn’t enough, you can easily refill your service with a phone call or some taps on your phone.

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