In an ideal world, you’d connect all your devices to a single Wi-Fi network and instantly be on the internet, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Maybe your hotel only offers a single Ethernet connection, or perhaps your airline Wi-Fi charges you per device and you’d rather just pay once for your laptop and phone. In those situations, you’re going to need a way to share internet through another device.
If you don’t have a mobile hotspot, and turning your phone into a hotspot isn’t an option (like on an airplane), you can actually share your PC’s internet connection with other devices over Wi-Fi. Here’s how to turn your computer into a hotspot.
If you’re running a version of Windows 10 from the Anniversary Update onward, you have this feature built into the operating system. You can even share your Wi-Fi internet to other devices without an Ethernet cable.
Just open Windows 10’s settings and head to Network & Internet > Mobile Hotspot. The “Share my Internet connection from” box should default to whatever network adapter is currently connected to the internet, though if you’re currently connected over Ethernet and Wi-Fi, you can choose which connection you want to share through this box.
Choose whether you want to share over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth—chances are you want to share over Wi-Fi—and click the “Edit” button to create a name and password for your new network. When you’re ready, flip the Mobile Hotspot switch to the on position at the top of the settings, and use your newly created credentials to log in from your phone or other device.
Note that you may experience slower internet while doing this, due to the inefficiencies of Wi-Fi sharing. Still, it’s better than nothing, especially when you’re in a bind.
Older versions of Windows also technically have internet sharing built in, but these methods can be extremely finicky. Windows 7 users can create ad-hock networks that are designed to share your Ethernet connection with other devices over Wi-Fi.
Unfortunately, this method has worked so seldom for me in the past that I’d label it more trouble than it’s worth. (If you want to try it for yourself, search for “Manage Wireless Networks” in the Start menu, then click the “Add” button to create a new ad-hoc network.)
Instead, free, third-party programs like Connectify work well across Windows 7, 8.1, and 10. Not only does it allow you to share your Ethernet connection over Wi-Fi, but you can share a Wi-Fi connection over Wi-Fi as well. If you purchase one of the more feature-rich paid versions, you can customize different aspects of the connection to fit your needs. The free version should suffice for most people in a pinch, though.
Connectify will walk you through the steps, but here’s the gist: Make sure the Wi-Fi Hotspot button is selected, choose your Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection from the box along the top, then click the Start Hotspot button.
Connectify will generate the network name and password for you (with paid users given the option to customize it), and you should be able to type those credentials into your phone, tablet, or other device to connect.
Note that it may take a minute for the hotspot to start, and I experienced some dropouts in my tests, but it’s still much better than trying to use an ad-hoc network. If you plan on using this feature a lot, though, your best bet is to upgrade to Windows 10.
Apple’s macOS has had internet sharing built in for quite some time, and it’s simple to use. Just head to System Preferences > Sharing and click the Internet Sharing option in the sidebar. You can share a connection from Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Thunderbolt, or FireWire to computers using any of those protocols.
However, you can’t share via the same protocol from which you’re currently receiving internet. (So, you can’t share your Wi-Fi connection over Wi-Fi—you’d have to share Ethernet over Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi over Bluetooth.)
Select the options you want—in my case, I’m sharing internet from my Ethernet connection to other devices over Wi-Fi—and click the Wi-Fi Options button to set the name and password of your resulting network, if applicable. Then check the box next to Internet Sharing in the sidebar to create your hotspot. You should be able to connect your other devices over Wi-Fi (or Bluetooth or Thunderbolt) and use the internet normally.
For more on how to optimize your Wi-Fi network, check out our tips for boosting your Wi-Fi signal. We’ve also tested the best wireless range extenders and top mesh Wi-Fi systems.