VPN Tethering — The What’s, How’s, and Why’s

Updated on: 12 July 2020
Updated on:12 July 2020

If your mobile phone has an internet connection, you can share that connection with other devices like laptops and other phones. This process is called tethering. To tether, the device needs to connect to your phone via wireless LAN, Bluetooth, or a USB cable. And once another device can access the web, your phone becomes a mobile hotspot.

Because this hotspot makes your mobile phone a portable router, the mobile service will monitor the connection. You may experience slower connections, and data may run out sooner rather than later when you’re using a hotspot.

Fortunately, there are workarounds to this issue. The simplest is to use a VPN.

The best VPN for tethering in my opinion is ExpressVPN. It has servers in all over the world and offers super fast speeds.

VPN Tethering

Can a VPN Protect Mobile-Tethered Devices?

No, at least not right away. A VPN in your mobile device establishes a secure tunnel between your phone and the VPN service provider. As the VPN application runs, it encrypts your mobile device’s outgoing traffic. But it won’t do the same for the device’s router facility. Hence, your mobile phone’s VPN can only protect the phone itself, not the other devices tethered to it.

Lucky for you, there’s an easy solution. All you have to do is install your preferred VPN on both the connecting device as well as the device acting as a router. The best VPN providers offer their services for both mobile devices and desktops. Just be sure your VPN vendor provides a connection to multiple devices with the same subscription. (We’ll discuss our favorite providers later.)

Want to Achieve Unlimited Tethering? Here’s How...

As you know, if you create a hotspot connection, even your unlimited data plans may run out. And a VPN on the device activating the hotspot connection alone won’t help.

Fortunately, there are still workarounds. They may not be as easy as installing VPNs on multiple devices, but they’re worth a shot nonetheless.

Changing the Tethering Access Point Name (APN)

Your phone uses a particular data source for normal mobile data usage, and it uses another data source for tethering. There are two separate APNs to deal with this. So when you establish a hotspot connection, you’ll be using the APN allocated for tethering. If you change this, then the ISP won’t be able to monitor the connected device’s traffic.

How to change the tethering APN in iPhones

The easiest way to do this through iPhones is to jailbreak. You need to break into the phone’s underlying security protocols and bypass all the protection measures. Then you can change the preset APN.

Keep in mind, however, that doing this may lead to unfavorable consequences.

How to change the tethering APN in Android devices

The steps here aren’t as straightforward as they are for changing the tethering in iPhones, but using the PDANet+ application is the best solution.

It will enable you to hide the fact that you’re using a hotspot to provide an internet connection to other devices. Your hotspot will be invisible, and then your ISP won’t see that you’re tethering, but only that you’re using a standard data connection.

Follow these steps:

1. Download and install the PDANet+ application here. Note that the application should be installed on both devices: the one you’re creating a hotspot from, and the one you’re connecting.

2. Once you’ve installed the app, launch it, and select the “WiFi Direct Hotspot” option.

VPN Tethering

3. Navigate to Network Connections and click on Wi-Fi.

VPN tethering Settings

4. Connect to the Wi-Fi network specified in the mobile application from your laptop’s Network and Internet Settings.

VPN Tethering Mobile

How PdaNet+ works:

  • The PdaNet+ application on your phone establishes a connection to the PdaNet+ program on your PC or other devices.
  • The computer then uses the program as its basic internet connection, while the app on the phone sends internet data through this new connection to your computer, proxying it.
  • The new connection mirrors the protocols that your phone naturally generates, creating the illusion that the standard data APN is used and not the tethering APN.

Not even your ISP or the mobile service provider will be able to track this down. Currently, it’s the safest and most efficient method for unlimited tethering using a VPN.

Concerns When Tethering With a VPN

  • Some mobile phones such as Samsung Galaxy S8+ and S9, as well as OnePlus, may classify your VPN as being a hotspot, thus consuming your tethering traffic. Many users complain that their ISP was counting VPN usage as hotspot traffic.
  • Be careful with jailbreaking the security protocols of your iPhone, as it does come with other security issues.

VPNs That Offer Both Desktop and Mobile Versions

As mentioned, the best VPN applications are versatile, offering impeccable desktop and mobile performance. They allow you to use your subscription in Android and iOS devices, as well as in Windows, Linux, and macOS. All users can enjoy security and freedom when it comes to browsing the internet.

If you’re looking for a reliable VPN that provides both mobile and desktop applications, you’ve got lots of options! For example, there’s SurfShark, IPVanish, and Private Internet Access. Our favorites are ExpressVPN and NordVPN (which we’ll talk about a little more shortly), but if you decide to shop around, be sure to consider the following:

  • Is your subscription good for multiple devices?
  • Is the mobile application easy to use? (Read reviews!)
  • Does the mobile client app have as many functionalities as the desktop client?
  • Is the VPN powerful enough to switch protocols (especially in the case of the mobile application)?

Now, let’s look at a few exceptional VPNs that can help you when tethering.

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN Tethering

ExpressVPN offers the best services for both your PC and mobile. It supports five devices with the same subscription. Furthermore, it has great functionalities in both iOS and Android devices. Among its many features, split-tunnelling, network lock, a location picker, and protocol selection are the most used. One thing to keep in mind is that accessing certain features is much easier in the mobile version than on a PC client.

Follow these easy steps to install ExpressVPN onto your PC or mobile device.

Purchasing a subscription

1. Go to the ExpressVPN official page.

2. Purchase the subscription of your choice.

ExpressVPN Prices

Installing ExpressVPN on your PC

1. Sign in to your ExpressVPN account on their official page and download the setup file.

ExpressVPN Installation

2. Sign in after installing the application.

ExpressVPN Sign In

3. Enter the activation code, and you’re all set!

ExpressVPN Activation Code

Installing ExpressVPN on your mobile (steps for installing on an Android device given here)

1. Go to Google Play Store and install the ExpressVPN mobile app.

ExpressVPN Mobile

2. After installing, sign in with the email you used when subscribing to ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN Login

3. Provide the necessary permissions required by the app.

ExpressVPN Connection Request

And that’s it! With ExpressVPN installed on both your mobile phone and laptop, you won’t have to worry about your ISP spying on your internet traffic when you’re tethering or establishing a mobile hotspot.

Conclusion

When you’re away from home and can’t find a public Wi-Fi connection, tethering or establishing a hotspot connection is a great alternative. And a VPN can be an effective way to stop your ISP from tethering your hotspot connection. All you have to do is install it on your laptop and mobile phone.

For Android devices, the PdaNet+ app creates a fool-proof tunneling connection that mirrors the protocols that your normal data usage APN would implement. Be aware that T-Mobile has been known to ignore Net Neutrality, and that it can throttle your speed at the slightest suspicion of VPN tethering. Some mobile devices are also naturally more vulnerable to being tracked.

Written by: Shanika W.

Connect with him:

Shanika Wickramasinghe is a software engineer by profession. She works for WSO2, one of the leading open-source software companies in the world. One of the biggest projects she has worked on is building the WSO2 identity server which has helped her gain insight on security issues. She is keen to share her knowledge and considers writing as the best medium to do so. Cybersecurity is one of her favorite topics to write about. Being a graduate in Information Technology, she has gained expertise in Cybersecurity, Python, and Web Development. She is passionate about everything she does, but apart from her busy schedule she always finds time to travel and enjoy nature.

14 thoughts on “VPN Tethering — The What’s, How’s, and Why’s”

  1. Spencer says:

    I appreciate your post. I just bought a Samsung galaxy j3 orbit. Does your workaround still apply?

    1. joe.r says:

      Hi Spencer, it should work. The easiest way to find out would be to check with https://www.dnsleaktest.com/ with your VPN switched on.

      1. Bill says:

        So Joe…do you mean if when using DNS Leak Test, the ISP comes back as, say, “PDANET+”, and NOT, say, “Verizon”, that the hotspot data is being hidden from Verizon? – Thanks.

  2. Mike says:

    I want to connect to my Roku using my Blu unlocked cell phone , straight talk very seldomly,it mainly for weekends at the river camp no tv reception there..I tried it works great only used 6 g of my 25 g plan I pay for ,straight talk blew a gasket like I’m some kind of hacker for using my data…so can a VPN help me..

  3. Tim says:

    I had a galaxy s10 and had zero problems hot-spotting my roku device. Now I have an iPhone 11 and it worked the first night but not now. So if I’m reading this right I need to jailbreak my iPhone then download a vpn app on my phone and I will also need a vpn app on my roku? Can you recommend an app for me? And by the way I do have T-Mobile.

  4. Roger Reid says:

    Question: If using the PadNet program on the phone and the computer using the tethered hot spot, is it also necessary to use VPN on both devices??? (Using samson Note 8

  5. Steven Robertson says:

    PDANet is running on my phone and on my Windows PC. Phone is connected via USB to the PC. Ethernet is coming from my computer into a router. The router is then broadcasting.

    The goal is to bypass any throttling or data caps. I’m doing this to try and create better, more reliable connectivity than HughesNet sattelite services which are horrible.

    Anyone have any suggestions on the above setup? Do I need to be running a VPN anywhere? Is there a WiFi hockey puck / router that is hackable?

    1. Phil Guerra says:

      Hey Steven I am doing this now. Your setup is pretty complete make sure you click on the “Hide tether usage” on the android device. On the PC you can download and run connectify which will allow you to make the PC a hotspot as well as give a connection to it. Your PC can act as the router and no other Hardware is needed!

      1. Phil Guerra says:

        Also no additional VPN and you will keep PDA net on the PC as well. This setup has served myself and my family well. Good luck with your hotspotting endeavors!

        1. Jan V says:

          I’d like to try this as ATT removed my 10gb and gave me a basic ass unlimited plan when I removed a line from the old great unlimited plan they offered with direct tv. Now I’m stuck trying to prepay 35 for 25gb for my son to update his ps4 games. He blew through the 25gb in 30 minutes…Now im not sure what to do without going an extra $100+ for an ISP. If I get 10gb and try and mask with PC setup would that work for the massive data usage from these damn gaming systems.

  6. Gary Bhill says:

    Will this work android to android as in cell phone to nvidia shield?

  7. Lesly says:

    How can i tethering my computer using vpn on phone

  8. Jon says:

    Hi Bogdan,

    Great article! I’m wondering if FoxFi key would work the same for an S9? Do you have any experience with it?

  9. Calvin says:

    I tether a lot, as I’n out on the field. TMo started throttling my tethering last year. I had to sign of for their “plus” plan. Did me no good, as they throttle all my remote desktop connections. I can use remote desktop on my phone, but it’s annoying with the tiny desktop.

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