How to turn your phone hotspot into a home broadband network

As cellular networks upshift from a roughly 30Mbps average data rate over 4G LTE in many metro areas—and even in smaller towns—to data rates that could be a few times higher as 5G networks starts appearing in earnest, thoughts of using your phone for home broadband instead of a wired connection increase as well, in places where wired speeds are low or expensive.

Carriers have discouraged this in the past, but many now offer plans with significant data allotments for a personal hotspot, like 15GB to 60GB per month. This is particularly the case on business plans, which many people now use at home.

Can you “wire” a personal hotspot into your home network? Yes—but read the carrier’s fine print. We do not encourage you to violate your terms of service. But if it fits within your contract’s parameters, you can use a Mac to pass through mobile broadband effectively.

The simplest way to create such a setup is to hook an iPhone (or iPad with a similar plan) to a Mac via USB, and share the internet connection via the Mac’s Wi-Fi. This disables your Mac’s connection to a local Wi-Fi network, if it has one, and it uses the iPhone entirely for its internet connection. (You need to use a USB connection, because Bluetooth has a fairly low data rate.)

mac911 enabled iphone usb IDG

Tethering your iPhone via USB allows for the highest consistent data rates.

You can also go up a step by sharing the phone’s connection via ethernet on a Mac, and plugging a Wi-Fi base station into that ethernet port. This would allow you to connect additional devices via ethernet, and to have a more powerful signal from a dedicated Wi-Fi gateway. (If your Mac doesn’t have ethernet built in, it’s easy to get a USB Type A or USB-C gigabit ethernet adapter if you have a port free, or to attach a dock to a Thunderbolt 3-equipped Mac that includes Ethernet.)

Here’s how to set this up with just a Mac’s built-in Wi-Fi:

  1. In the Network preference pane, select the iPhone USB adapter in the left-hand list. (If it doesn’t exist, click the + sign at the bottom of the list, select iPhone USB from the Interface pop-up menu, and click OK.)

  2. Uncheck Disable Unless Needed.

  3. Click Apply.

  4. In the Sharing preference pane, click the Internet Sharing item in the Service list.

  5. From the “Share your connection from” list, choose iPhone USB (or whatever your iPhone interface is named).

  6. From the “To computers using” list, check just Wi-Fi.

  7. Click Wi-Fi Options. Name your network, and then pick a channel and a security method. Channels 1, 6, and 11 will work over longer distances, but won’t allow as much throughput; channels 36, 40, 44, and 48 allow for higher throughput over shorter ranges. For security, pick WPA2 Personal and enter a passphrase.

  8. Click the box next to Internet Sharing in the list.

  9. macOS warns you about network disruption. Click Start.

mac911 internet sharing enable IDG

You can share the iPhone’s connection via Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

If you want to use a Wi-Fi gateway, in step 6 above, select just ethernet from the list, or the appropriate USB or Thunderbolt ethernet adapter and skip step 7. The Wi-Fi gateway should be configured for passthrough or bridge mode, instead of assigning out its own private network addresses, as macOS will handle that task.

Using a smartphone as the basis of your home broadband of course tethers your phone into your network. Removing it from this setup removes your broadband access—unless you have a slower, back-up broadband service also in place.