Monitor data usage when using a phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot

When the Wi-Fi is poor or if you don’t want to use public Wi-Fi for privacy or security reasons, use a phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Don’t forget to keep an eye on data usage to avoid bills.

If you have a problem with the Wi-Fi at home, at work or when out with your laptop computer, many phones can be turned into a wireless hotspot that the computer can connect to for internet access. It can be a life-saver when you need to get on the internet, but there is no Wi-Fi.

If you are travelling with a laptop and have to use public Wi-Fi at cafes, hotels, airports and other places, there may be security and privacy issues. Can they be trusted? A VPN is one solution to the problem. Read Do you need a VPN at home? It applies equally to working away from home too.

Using your phone as a personal, private and secure Wi-Fi hotspot is another solution. The computer connects to the phone’s Wi-Fi and the phone connects to the internet through its mobile data connection. With 4G, the internet speed is very good and with 5G is it amazing.

The downside is that you may have limited mobile data on your phone. Most service plans have a limit and it may be 2, 5, 10 or even 20 GB. Whatever the limit, it is very easy to exceed it when the computer is connected to the phone hotspot because computers use a lot of network data. You don’t want it downloading big Windows updates for example.

Here I look at how to use a phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot and how to monitor the data usage on a Windows PC.

Enable the phone Wi-Fi hotspot

iPhone personal hotspot in iOS settings

Somewhere in the phone settings is an option to enable a personal hotspot. On the iPhone, open Settings, press Personal Hotspot and turn on the switch. The wireless network will then appear and can be connected to with the password given. Just click the Wi-Fi icon at the right side of the taskbar and select it.

Android phones have a similar option and the first place to look for it is in Settings > Connections. It could be called Mobile Hotspot and Tethering. Turn it on and connect to it on the computer.

Windows Wi-Fi settings

Wi-Fi in Windows 10 Settings

Open the Settings app by pressing Windows+I and click Network & Internet. The network name is displayed and here you can see that I am connected to my iPhone. The total amount of data used in the last 30 days displayed on the right. Data logging for each Wi-Fi network is separate, so it won’t be confused if you use several, such as work, home and your phone.

There is a Data usage button, but before we click that, we need to set up a few things. Click the Properties button.

Set as metered connection

Wi-Fi in Windows 10 Settings

Scroll down a bit until you come to the Metered connection section. Turn on the switch below Set as metered connection. This only applies to the current network, which is the phone. It does not affect other networks you may use, like home and work.

Making this a metered connection reduces network activity to a minimum. For example, it won’t download a massive Windows update using up all your mobile phone data.

In addition to reduced network usage, you can also set a limit. Click Set a data limit to help control data usage on this network. It does not affect other networks.

View data usage

Wi-Fi in Windows 10 Settings

This screen is the same one as when you go to Settings > Network & Internet > Data usage. (See the screenshot under Windows Wi-Fi settings.) You can come here anytime to see which apps have used the most data. It is useful to keep an eye on things.

Now that this network is set as metered, we can set a limit. Click Enter limit.

Set a data limit

Wi-Fi in Windows 10 Settings

Choose whether the limit is Monthly or One time, choose the day of the month when your phone plan renews, then enter a data limit below.

This is computer data only and does not include data you might use on the phone. If you watch a Netflix movie on your phone while waiting for a bus, it will not show up here. You also need to keep an eye on data usage on your phone, this limit is just to stop you or your computer accidentally downloading big files while connected to the phone hotspot.

Don’t set this to the maximum data in your phone service plan. It is for limiting the computer only. Choose a low limit, such as half your monthly data for example.

Check data usage

Wi-Fi in Windows 10 Settings

Now you can see all the information you need when you go to Settings > Network & Internet > Data usage. It tells you how much has been used and bow much us remaining. There are buttons to edit or remove the limit. You can also see what has used all the data, so you can either cut down on or avoid these apps.

Final thoughts

You must look at the data usage on the phone to see the total data used – phone and computer. One thing you could do is to look on the phone and see how much data remains, then set a one-time limit in Windows so you don’t go over.

Your phone may also have mobile data limiting features and you may be able to set a limit on it. If the computer tries to use too much data, the phone will simply switch off mobile data when it reaches the limit.

Even just setting the network as metered without setting a limit will reduce mobile data usage on the phone.

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