Despite your best efforts, sometimes you can’t find wireless passwords at airports that don’t have free wifi or simply have to accept the inevitable hotel room that charges for Internet. (Come join us in 2014, you know who you are.) When facing your credit card, it might be enough to hold back your tears knowing it’s possible to share one paid Internet connection through a laptop to other devices or with friends who might split the travel cost with you.
Breaking Down Connections
Let’s begin with a few fundamentals, the first being things depend on how you’re getting the paid Internet connection (i.e. through Ethernet or wirelessly). Sharing a wireless connection over wireless using the same network card is nearly impossible with a Mac whereas a few Windows apps make it a snap. Also, the process is a bit different between Windows and Mac OS X (I’m omitting Linux flavors) but in general, when given options these are the most straightforward configurations:
- Ethernet To Wireless: Mac OS X
- Wireless To Wireless: Windows 7 or 8
- Wireless To Ethernet: Take your pick
You can also share an Ethernet or wireless Internet connection to other devices over Bluetooth as well and it’s pretty simply for both operating systems as you’ll see below. Additionally, if you’re only traveling with a tablet or mobile you can share their Internet connection in most cases using Bluetooth.
Share A Cabled Ethernet Connection Over Wireless (Mac OS X)
Most recent versions of Mac OS X make turning your laptop’s Ethernet connection into a wireless hotspot fairly easy.
- Open System Preferences > Click Sharing
- If you want to protect the wireless connection using a password, select Wi-Fi Options. In the window that opens up, name the new wireless network anything you want or stick with the default (your Macbook’s name), choose WPA2 Personal from the Security drop-down, pick a password, confirm it and click OK.
- In the box labeled “To computers using:“, check “Wi-Fi“
- Finally, check “Internet Sharing” on the left hand side
You should now be seeing the wireless network you just created from other devices and be able to connect; unless you’ve already forgotten the password because you’re blessed with terrible traveler’s memory.
Ethernet To Wireless (Windows 8)
There are two ways to go about sharing an Ethernet Internet connection using Windows 8. The first – much easier – way is to download the free program Virtual Router Plus. Though if you’re ready for a bit of command prompt jiu-jitsu, here’s how to configure a Windows 8 hotspot yourself.
- From the Start screen > All Apps > Windows System > Command Prompt
- In the command prompt that opens up, type the following, with the SSID being a network name you choose along with any password: netsh wlan set hostednetwork mode=allow ssid=NetworkName key=Password
- Hit Enter
- Type > netsh wlan start hostednetwork > Enter
When you’re done sharing, be sure to enter this in the command prompt: netsh wlan stop hostednetwork. Now, if you’re gotten this far, you’re probably wishing you had just downloaded Virtual Router Plus. Also, although Microsoft has announced it’s going to end support for Windows 7 in early 2015, sharing Internet connections on Windows 7 is so simple, you might be tempted not to upgrade just yet.
Wireless To Wireless (Windows 7 and 8)
Sharing a wireless connection using one wireless card requires a bit of software magic that Connectify Pro ($40) provides for both Windows 7 and 8. Manual configuration is possible but you’ll have to get your hands digitally dirtier than you might want.
Wireless To Wireless (Mac OS X)
Sharing a wireless connection over wifi isn’t something Mac OS X supports natively, potentially skewing a decision over whether you should buy a Mac or Windows laptop for your travels. (Unfortunately Connectify mentioned above is Windows-only.) Rather, in addition to extending your wireless range, purchase one of these USB wireless antennas which will run you about $30. Connect the antenna, then follow the Ethernet To Wireless (Mac OS X) instructions above, with the following modifications:
- Open System Preferences > Click Sharing
- In the box labeled “To computers using:“, check “Wireless_LAN_Adapter” (or some very close variation)
- Check “Internet Sharing” on the left hand side
Share A Wireless Connection Between Laptops Using An Ethernet Cable
There’s a reason I always travel with an Ethernet cable in my backpack and being able to share a paid wireless connection with a traveling companion is one of its many benefits. Turning one Internet connection into two is an easy process for both Windows or Mac which I cover on Tech Guide For Travel.
Sharing Wifi Over Bluetooth (Windows 7, 8, And OS X)
Due to the Bluetooth’s limited range and the extra configuration required, you’re probably only going to need this when you want to share Internet from a mobile device or are having trouble turning your Macbook into a wireless to wireless hotspot. Here are a few guides on possible setups:
- How To Share A Wireless Connection Over Bluetooth With An iPad (OS X Only)
- How To Share WiFi Over Bluetooth On Windows 7
- How To Share Internet Over Bluetooth With Windows, iOS, And Android Devices
Drawbacks Of Sharing
Of course, sharing an Internet connection means sharing (or splitting) the total amount of bandwidth available to all of the connected devices, meaning it’s not the ideal time to stream your favorite TV shows. Turn off bandwidth hogs (at least it will help extend battery life) and remember that most shared connections won’t work if the host is connected to a virtual private network. It is best to book cheaper airfare using a VPN before your digital generosity begins, though if anyone has a complaint, remind them who can pull the plug on their Internetz.