Android phones are big on cloud computing, so you gotta stay connected. Smartphone geeks like to toss the word "tethering" around, but what exactly is it and how do you do it? Follow along after the jump and we'll break it down for you.
Tethering (at least the way we're using the word) means to use your cellular phones data connection to provide network services to another device. Your phone uses its 3G connection to send and receive data that's requested by another device, usually through a USB data connection. It's handy in a pinch if you're somewhere without a dedicated WiFi or other means of getting to the internet, and some people use it as their day-to-day internet connection.
It's not all wine and roses though. To start with, it's not the speediest way to get on the net. Slow cable connections and even most DSL lines are a good bit faster than the average 3G connection. It's passable, and faster than that old AOL dial-up everyone used ten years ago, but don't expect miracles. It's also hard on the processor, and in turn battery-intensive. Even though you'll likely have your phone connected via USB, don't expect it to charge much (if at all) while tethering.
And then there's the whole carrier angle. I'm not going to sit here and say "Your carrier doesn't care if you tether," or "you'll never get caught." What you need to do is call your cell phone service provider and ask them for their policies. Save yourself the grief that comes from listening to internet wisdom then getting nailed with a multi-thousand dollar cell bill, or getting your service disconeccted. I'm serious -- saying "That hillbilly dude from androidcentral.com said I could do it" isn't going to work if your carrier has an issue with you tethering. I promise it wont.
How to tether
There are three basic ways to tether your Android phone to another device -- WiFi, Bluetooth, and USB connection. We're going to skip past WiFi for now, that section comes later. We're also going to skip Bluetooth tethering completely. Why? Because getting it to work is hit or miss. If it's your only option, we'll all work it out together (if we can) in the forums. We're going to keep things basic here.
There are quite a few apps on the market you can use to tether. We're going to focus on PdaNet. The free version works great (the drawback is that it blocks secure sites -- upgrade to the full version if you need that), is easy to set up and use, and everybody loves free. Get it here:
Once it's on your phone, run it. The first time you run the app, you'll see this:
Unless you've already used it before, you'll need to download the application that goes on your computer. You can do that right through the app by selecting the "Yes. Let me download" button. Your browser will open and you'll see this:
Choose the version for your computer OS. It will download, and save itself on your SD card in the download folder. Plug your phone in and mount the SD card just as if you were transferring pictures or music, and copy the downloaded file to your computer, and run the file.
If you're using Windows, you may see a warning about the driver software publisher. You can safely ignore this. You can also safely ignore warnings about HTC compatibility, provided you have the latest version of HTC sync.
Now make sure your phone is connected via USB cable to your computer, and is set to charge only, i.e. not as a removable disk. Open the PdaNet application, and press the "Enable USB Tether" button. You'll see a notice that PdaNet is running, and you should connect from your computer.
Jump on your computer, and look for the PdaNet notification icon. If you're using Windows, it looks something like the first image below. Click the icon and choose "Connect" from the context menu. You'll see a couple small dialog windows -- don't worry you won't need to interact with them. When it's finished you'll see a pop up telling you it's connected.
You can open your network settings and verify. You're looking for an entry named PdaNet Modem.
That's it. You now have a moderatly fast internet connection for your netbook or laptop or any device that can accept modem connections over USB. To stop the connection, just press the "Turn Off PdaNet" button in the PdaNet app, and unplug the cable from your phone.
A quick word about SenseUI's mobile network sharing
If you have a phone running Android 2.1 with HTC Sense, mobile network sharing is built into the operating system. Don't get too excited though, because your carrier decides whether or not it will work. If you want to try it for yourself, make sure you have the latest version of HTC Sync and plug your phone into your computer. In the connection options, choose Internet sharing.
If it connects and you see a dialog on your computer, you're good to go. If you see any dialogs on your phone, especially ones about invalid credentials on the network, it's not going to work. Chances are that your carrier will only allow this if you have a PAM (Phone As Modem) add-on to your account.
Tethering over WiFi
If you've rooted your phone and have support for iptables installed correctly, you can use Wireless Tether for Root Users to easily tether your phone over WiFi. I can't provide a direct link, as the version you need depends on the ROM you're using. Ask the creator or other users which one works best for that particular ROM. User's of any Gumbo ROM for the Sprint Hero need to select version 1.6 for best results.
Setting it up is easy. It's a matter of pressing the green button to start it. Check out the video for a quick demo:
As you can see in the video, it's so easy a caveman can do it -- and a great way to get internet on other handheld devices without a dedicated wireless connection.
Now contact your carrier to know the rules, download an app, and never be without internet as long as you have your Android phone with you!