How to Connect a Laptop to an AT&T Cell Phone

by Jeff Grundy Google

    Like other major wireless carriers, AT&T offers smartphones based on major mobile platforms such as Android, iPhone and Windows Phone. Therefore, many phones sold by AT&T are capable of serving as hot spots for computers and other Wi-Fi capable devices. There are a couple of different ways to power a laptop Internet connection with your AT&T smartphone. The best method for connecting your laptop to the Internet depends primarily on the type of phone and AT&T data plan you have.

    Connection Methods

    Depending on the type of laptop and cellphone you own, there may be a few different ways you can connect your laptop to the Internet. Most modern AT&T smartphones support Wi-Fi, as long as you have an appropriate data plan. Additionally, you may be able to tether your laptop to an AT&T cellphone with a USB cable, which enables the phone to be used as a wired modem. However, AT&T does not allow wired tethering with all models and data plans. Finally, you can also use the Bluetooth feature found on phones and laptops to enable an Internet connection as well. Bluetooth connections, though, are generally only suitable for checking email, as they are considerably slower than Wi-Fi or USB. In most cases, using a Wi-Fi connection between your AT&T smartphone and a laptop works best, as AT&T tethering plans for wireless connections are more plentiful and usually more affordable than those for USB connections.

    Apple IPhones

    An Apple iPhone supports a feature that enables you to use it as a personal hot spot for your laptop or other Wi-Fi-enabled device. If you purchased your iPhone through AT&T, though, the phone will not allow you to enable the feature unless you activate tethering on your account. Once you activate a supported tethering plan, you can set up the Wi-Fi hot spot quickly by turning on the "Personal Hotspot" feature in the Network section of the Settings menu. Just slide the "Personal Hotspot" option to the "ON" position, and then select "Turn on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth" when prompted.

    Android Phones

    Just as with iPhones, Android smartphones offer feature support for using them as wireless hot spots. Also like iPhones, AT&T usually disables the Wi-Fi hot spot feature on Android phones unless you activate a tethering plan. Activating the Tethering & Hotspot feature on an AT&T Android phone is relatively straightforward. From the Home screen, tap "Settings," "More..." and then "Wireless & Networks." Tap the "Tethering & Portable Hotspot" option, and then tap the check box "Tethering & Portable Hotspot" to enable the option. Next, type a name for the Wi-Fi hot spot in the SSID field, enter a username and password for accessing the phone from the laptop and tap "Save."

    Windows Phones

    Windows Phone users constitute only a small fraction of the smartphone market. Nevertheless, AT&T offers smartphones based on the Microsoft operating system for those that prefer Windows phones to Android or Apple devices. Restrictions for using an AT&T Windows Phone as a mobile hot spot are the same as they are with Android smartphones and iPhones; you must have an active tethering plan. If you have a suitable data plan, setting up a Windows Phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot is as simple as sharing the Internet connection. To do this, first press the "Home" button, and then swipe to the left several times, until you see a list of all applications installed on the phone. Next, tap "Settings," "System" and then "Internet Sharing." Slide the "Sharing" switch to the "On" position, and then tap "Setup" on the Internet Sharing screen. Enter a name for the connection in the "Broadcast Name" field and then a password. Tap the "Check Mark" icon to save the Internet Sharing settings, and then press "Home" to return to the main screen.

    Connecting the Laptop

    After you set up your AT&T phone as a hot spot, connecting your laptop to the device is relatively straightforward. If using Windows XP or Windows 7, the smartphone hot spot should show up in the wireless network list you can access by clicking the Wi-Fi symbol icon on the taskbar. With Windows 8, you can find the wireless network list by pressing "Windows-I," and then clicking "Network." Select the SSID or network name for the smartphone hot spot; enter the username and password you created; and then click "Connect." After a few seconds, the laptop connects to the smartphone and receives an IP address automatically. Once connected, you can surf the Web on the laptop, just as you would with any other type of Internet connection.

    Data Plan Requirements

    Regardless of the type of connection you choose for tethering your laptop and AT&T phone, you must subscribe to a tethering plan. As mentioned above, if you purchase your phone from AT&T, tethering using the native Wi-Fi or USB tools on the smartphone won't work, unless you subscribe to a suitable data plan. However, there are third-party apps you can use to bypass the restriction and set up wired or wireless tethering. Furthermore, if you use an unlocked smartphone, you can use the native tethering apps to connect a laptop and share the Internet connection. Nevertheless, it's not too difficult for AT&T to recognize tethering data. If the company detects unauthorized tethering, it may impose additional charges under the terms of your contract or cancel your mobile account altogether.

    About the Author

    Jeff Grundy has been writing computer-related articles and tutorials since 1995. Since that time, Grundy has written many guides to using various applications that are published on numerous how-to and tutorial sites. Born and raised in South Georgia, Grundy holds a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

    Photo Credits

    • Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images