How to Tether Your Android Phone

January 13, 2010

There are three ways to tether your Android handset and get sweet internet love even where there's no Wi-Fi in sight: the risky-but-free method that requires serious technical skills, the still-geeky-but-not-as-bad free route, and the $30 easy way. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Method 1: Tether Android with Apps that Need Root (Free, heavy configuration)

The Android Wi-Fi Tether application turns your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot--essentially a MiFi--in one tap. The catch? You have to gain root access to your phone, a multi-step process that uses an unofficial Android add-on which can brick your phone if applied incorrectly. Rooting Android is doable for geeks and hackers with experience soft-modding hardware, but it's not something most users could (or should!) do.

If you're up for getting root access in Android, the Android and Me blog runs down how to do it. It's a multi-step process that involves unlocking your phone's bootloader, flashing a recovery image, and flashing an add-on to the default Nexus One firmware. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely doable if you've ever upgraded your router's firmware or hacked your Xbox. Here's a video of the process from Android and Me:

The pros of this method: it's free and it makes your phone act as a Wi-Fi hotspot that any computer can connect to without extra software or messing with your computer's settings. The cons: you can seriously screw up your phone if something goes wrong, and you may be sacrificing over-the-air automatic Android updates in the future. (If OTA updates cease, you can always flash your recovery image--but this just means your rooted phone requires maintenance a non-rooted phone does not.)

Update: Kevin tells me that USB tethering is available by default in the latest CyanogenMOD ROM, no extra apps required.

Method 2: Tether Android with Proxoid (Free, no root required, some configuration)

If you don't want to gain root but know enough to get around the command line and use proxy servers, the Proxoid Android app can tether your phone for free. Proxoid turns your Android device into a proxy server that your computer uses to make internet requests. Proxoid is free in the Android market, but to get it working you have to install the Android SDK or device drivers onto your computer, tweak some of the settings, and then configure your browser to use a proxy server whenever you want to tether. Here are the installation instructions.

To connect to the internet via Proxoid, on the phone you check a box to start the proxy server. On your Mac you enter a command in the Terminal and on Windows you run a batch file to start the tunnel, then you set your web browser to use that proxy.

The pros of this method are that it's free and you don't need to gain root, so it's less risky. The cons are that you've got to install the Android SDK (something really only developers should have to do), and set your browser to use the proxy server each time you want to tether.

Note: Proxoid is the only method I haven't tested myself on the Nexus One. Proxoid's documentation is a bit rough--the Mac installation instructions are second-hand, as the author doesn't own a Mac--and there isn't a Nexus One-specific listing. Let me know if you're successfully using Proxoid on your N1 and what OS you're using.


Method 3: Tether Android with PdaNet ($30, no root required, minimal configuration)

Finally, the PdaNet Android application lets you tether Android using an app on the phone plus simple software you install on your computer.

PdaNet costs $30 if you want to access https ports (which the free version blocks). To connect to the internet via the phone, you tap a button to start PdaNet on the phone, and click "Connect" in the PdaNet software on your computer.

The pros of PdaNet are that it's risk-free, easy to use, and requires minimal setup. (You do have to enable USB debugging on your phone, which is the geekiest step it involves, but that's just a checkbox in your phone's settings.) The cons of PdaNet is that it requires the PdaNet software on your computer and that it costs $30.


What I'm Doing

Either I'm getting old or Jarvis is getting to me, because right now I'm with Chris: rooting Android isn't a process I want to go through again or have to maintain. In that spirit of laziness, I also don't want to have to mess with proxy servers or the command line when I tether; I want to click "Connect" and get online. So, I went with PdaNet, which was the simplest but not free option of the bunch.

How are you tethering your Android device?

Root + WiredTether is my choice in the N1.

Mitheor
Jan 13 10 at 10:16 am

If you’ve rooted your G1 or myTouch 3G with the CyanogenMod ROM (hey, just like Gina did!), and you’re running a fairly recent build, you get built-in USB tethering. Simply enable it from the Wireless options in your Settings.

Kevin Purdy [+4]
Jan 13 10 at 10:19 am

@Kevin: Oooh, I didn’t know that! No app required on the latest builds, that’s fantastic. Will update the post, thanks. :)

Gina Trapani [+195]
Jan 13 10 at 10:21 am

An alternative for those of us who don’t want to root the device is one similar to the Proxoid solution, but it adds the benefit of SSH tunneling.

I wrote a blog post about it here:
http://moblog.bradleyit.com/2009/12/tethering-your-non-rooted-android-based.html

Ben Bradley
Jan 13 10 at 10:37 am

Gina, I’m glad you took my advice from yesterday . . . http://twitter.com/virtualvip/statuses/7676476876

And yeah . . . rooting etc., is do-able for you, me, and I suspect many folks reading this, if not most, but . . . REALLY?

Rock on . . .

Jeff Yablon
President & CEO
Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

Answer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

Jeff Yablon
Jan 13 10 at 10:43 am

I use PDANet since it’s just so simple and doesn’t involve rooting my Hero. I like being able to sit down, plug the phone into my laptop, click connect and have it just work.

On the other hand, I do think $30 is a little steep, but, it does work well.

John Roepke
Jan 13 10 at 10:58 am

I’d root if it had more benefits. But I would only use tethering when I travel, which isn’t much these days (thankfully). This is cool, though, that there are multiple options for people who want to do it.

Jason Krellner [+9]
Jan 13 10 at 10:59 am

My European HTC Hero has a standard option in the menu to use my phone as a modem. Works like a charm…

Marten Meulen
Jan 13 10 at 11:14 am

Yeah I have a Hero with BT in the UK. Just plug in the USB cable, choose settings\Wireless Controls\Mobile network sharing, and Both Windows 7 and Ubuntu detect and connect without fuss (Ubuntu sees it as a USB ethernet connection!).

Guess we don’t have the same issue with tethering as the US?

Mark Chapman
Jan 13 10 at 11:56 am

I also went with PDAnet. Worth the money to me to avoid messing with rooting as I’m still a newbie! Works fantastic, I use it on my 1.5 hr train commute. I also looked at the Proxoid solution but also complicated with the SDK install etc.

I’m hoping that when an EU version of the ROM is released, I’ll be able to load it onto my US Nexus One via the fastboot-oem firmware unlock, and get USB tethering like the lucky Europeans upthread…

Thomas Wilburn
Jan 13 10 at 1:39 pm

You left out option 4: Use the free version of PDAnet and don’t use your tethered device for https sites.

Pros: free, easy, it works
Cons: you won’t spend all your savings buying stuff securely online

dcatalyst
Jan 13 10 at 2:12 pm

I’m using PDAnet and it couldn’t have been easier to install and it works great. And I’m using the free version because I doubt I’ll ever need to access an https page when I don’t have access to wifi.

Hugh Briss
Jan 13 10 at 3:29 pm

I chose option 1 on my HTC G1 developer edition phone. I like the options available with a rooted phone, the performance improvements, and tethering was a must-have piece of functionality. I also liked the challenge and the satisfaction of getting it done myself for free.

Nathan
Jan 13 10 at 10:00 pm

I think the article’s assertion that “application turns your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot–essentially a MiFi–in one tap” is inaccurate, or at least misleading enough to cause false excitement.

Following the link to the tethering app, it states that the wifi tethering is done via adhoc mode. That’s great for your laptop or computer that can do adhoc, but if you’ve got an iPod touch or similar, they don’t adhoc.

I guess my issue is just with the “essentially a MiFi” remark. A MiFi looks just like a wireless router to devices, meaning anything with WiFi can use it. Sounds like a rooted Nexus One won’t meet my current needs. :-(

distortedloop
Jan 18 10 at 10:47 am

Keep the Android tips coming. I have a Droid, coming from a BlackBerry the phone amazes me.

Thanks
Monty

MontyMo
Jan 19 10 at 7:29 am

I’d love to hear how you like the PDANet tethering after a few weeks.

Rob Blatt [+3]
Jan 19 10 at 10:00 pm

Gina – I think you’re overlooking the SSH + SOCKS option that Ben Bradley wrote about above.

The secret appears to be that OpenSSH can act as a SOCKS proxy!

http://embraceubuntu.com/2006/12/08/ssh-tunnel-socks-proxy-forwarding-secure-browsing/

So creating an SSH tunnel on your Android (via ConnectBot) that allows your laptop to connect through your phone to a remote server gives you a SOCKS proxy. Tell your web browser about it and you’re tethered!

Ben’s example uses the SDK, but I think you can just connect Laptop->[WiFI]->Android->[3G]->Server(proxy).

trancemist.com/
Jan 26 10 at 4:58 pm

There is a 4th simpler and free method that works on the Android LG Eve with Rogers Wireless. Might work on others but I haven’t tested it. I posted the instructions on my blog at http://blog.interlockit.com/2010/01/connect-your-computer-to-internet-via.html. The steps are very similar to what works for Blackberries.

Method #4 – Using azilink , USB cable, and GNU/Linux (e.g. Ubuntu)

No rooting required.. See how here:
http://www.humans-enabled.com/2009/12/how-to-tether-your-verizon-droid-as.html

Shannon VanWagner
humans-enabled



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