Sunday, January 25, 2015

When Wireless doesn't work on your Laptop: Quick Fix with Android's USB Tethering

My previous blog post describes how I went about getting my laptop to connect to WiFi after some initial hiccoughs. Here I'm going to describe the quick-and-dirty way - during those times when you have just installed a Linux distro and have issues getting wireless to work but have no access to an Ethernet cable and happen to have an Android device lying around.

All you need is an Android device (phone/tablet, SIM not necessary). Here are the steps you can follow:

  1. Connect your Android device to the WiFi hotspot you wish to access.
  2. Turn off data if using a phone with a SIM card in it just to be safe (you don't want to accidentally pay for high data usage when WiFi signal drops).
  3. Connect the android device to the laptop via USB cable.
  4. On the phone (my device runs KitKat - your menu options may vary) select a connection mode other than USB Charge Only. I selected USB Storage mode.
  5. Go to Settings -> More... -> Tethering & portable hotspot
  6. Check USB Tethering - this connects your phone to the laptop and your laptop sees it as an Ethernet over USB interface.
  7. Observe that Network Manager immediately detects the USB Ethernet interface and connects to wired internet.
This how-to is applicable to distros which come with a full fledged desktop with plug and play enabled out of box (you probably need an Ethernet cable if you are installing something like ArchLinux, but Fedora or Ubuntu will be a lot more forgiving).

If you have difficulty using GSM modems with Linux, your Android phone can again come to your rescue. All you need to do is enable data on your Android phone which has the SIM from the GSM Modem in it and if the phone is able to connect to the internet successfully, your Android device acts as a simple Ethernet over USB interface which works without issues.

This solution also works on Windows and Apple laptops since Ethernet over USB is a plug-and-play standard supported by all. I haven't personally tested beyond Fedora, Ubuntu, Manjaro and a friend's Windows 7 laptop though.

PS: This is how I access internet on both my phone and my laptop from a Starbucks.

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