Better manage and control tethering on your Android tablet

Jack Wallen offers some tethering tips for your Android tablet, including some helpful apps and additional security, even if your provider doesn't allow tethering.

I use my Samsung Galaxy Tab as a hotspot on a daily basis. The Verizon 4G is sometimes better than whatever wireless service I'm offered, and it allows me to do what I need to do (and doesn't control my traffic). Since I've become so familiar with this process and how to control it, I thought I'd share my experiences.

Now, obviously I'm dealing with a provider that allows tethering. Every company is different -- some don't allow tethering, some allow it with a fee, and some allow it with no fee. Before you attempt to set up a tether, find out if your service offers tether and, if it does, if there's a data charge involved.

With that said, let's get to work on better managing the tether on your Android tablet.

Enabling the tether

The traditional method of enabling tether is to go to Settings | Wireless and networks | Mobile Hotspot. From that window (Figure A), tap the checkbox for Mobile Hotspot, and the service will be enabled. You can, of course, enable a tether if you're using your 3G/4G or a wireless network. Of course, tethering on a wireless network is somewhat redundant. Most likely, you'll only be tethering when using your provider's service. Figure A

Be careful leaving this page open, as it will display your tether password in clear text.

For users who do a lot of tethering, there's a much easier method of enabling/disabling the tether, but it requires the installation of a third-party app. The simplest app for this is Tether Share Switcher, which places a simple widget on your home screen and, with a single tap, will turn on or off your tether. No bells and whistles, just on and off. To add this widget to your home screen, do the following:

  1. Install Tether Share Switch from the Google Play Store
  2. Once it's installed, long-press your home screen and tap the Widgets tab (Figure B)
  3. Find and then tap the Share Switcher widget
  4. Tap the home screen the widget was placed on to see it in action
Figure B

This screen should be familiar if you'd added widgets and launchers to the home screen.
The widget itself is a simple solution with two buttons (Figure C). The left button enables USB tethering and the right button enables Wi-Fi tethering. Figure C

My Verizon-branded Galaxy Tab now has fast access to enabling tethering.

Add an extra layer of security

When you set up your tether, you should always create a strong password. If you don't, you risk someone hopping onto your hotspot and using your data. You can add an extra layer of security by only allowing specific machines to join your hotspot. The trick is, you have to know these machines' MAC address. Getting MAC addresses depends on the platform being used. Some desktops, such as Ubuntu Unity and GNOME 2/3, allow you to get easy access to the network connection information, which includes the MAC (hardware) address.

Once you have the MAC address of all machines you want to allow onto your tether, do the following to add them:

  1. Open up the Settings window
  2. Tap Wireless and networks | Mobile Hotspots
  3. Tap Network Settings
  4. In the overlay, tap the Manage devices button
  5. In the new overly, tap Manage Allowed Devices
  6. If Allow all devices to connect is checked, uncheck it
  7. Tap Add device
  8. Enter the MAC address for the device you want to add, and tap Done
  9. If you need to add more devices, tap Add device again and repeat until you have all necessary devices added

Now that you have this set up, only those devices with the allowed MAC addresses can connect to your tether.

Other options

If you happen to have a plan with a provider that doesn't support tethering, you're not without options. Which route you take will depend upon if your tablet is rooted or not. If your device isn't rooted, your best bet is Easy Tether. The Easy Tether app cost $9.99 (USD) -- there's also a free lite version -- that can enable tethering on your tablet or smartphone, even if your plan doesn't allow it. However, even with this app, some providers (such as T-Mobile) can still block traffic. They do this by inspecting the user agent string. Here's how you get around it:

  1. Visit UserAgentString on your tablet and copy the user agent string into a text file on your computer
  2. Change the default user agent string in the web browser on your computer to the string from your tablet. If your web browser itself doesn't allow for the changing of the user agent string (to that which you copied from your Android tablet browser), you'll need to install a user agent add on (such as User Agent Switcher for Firefox) to the PC web browser.

Easy Tether has a very simple walk-through of how to get it working. Once you install the app, just fire it up and the wizard will help you do the rest.

If you have a rooted tablet, your best bet is Barnacle Wifi Tether. This free app is compatible with Windows (XP/Vista/7), Mac, Linux, iPod/iPhone/iPad, and even Xbox! The steps for using Barnacle are simple (if you consider rooting a tablet simple):

  1. Root your tablet
  2. Install Barnacle Wifi Tether from the Google Play Store
  3. Run Barnacle Wifi Tether
  4. Connect your PC (or other device) to the ad-hoc network

Unless you configure Barnacle, the default SSID is barnacle.

That's it! You now have better tethering with the help of Android and a few simple tricks and/or apps. Tethering has helped me out of tricky situations on a number of occasions. I highly recommend you give the feature a try and, if your tablet/provider doesn't offer the solution, give one of the tools I mentioned above a try, and see if you can enable tethering on your non-tetherable tablet.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....