Enable Internet Sharing in Mac OS X to Turn Your Mac Into a Wireless Router
Did you know you can turn your Mac into a wireless access point by using Internet Sharing? Internet Sharing works for nearly all versions of Mac OS X, from 10.6, to OS X 10.7 Lion, 10.8 Mountain Lion, and beyond, and with internet sharing enabled, your internet connected Mac will broadcast a wifi signal that can be used by another Mac, PC, iPad, iPhone, or whatever else you need to get online from.
Though it may sound like an advanced feature, internet sharing is actually really easy to set up on a Mac, and if you follow along you’ll have it working in no time at all, effectively turning a Mac into a wireless router.
If you’re wondering when and why this is so useful, here are some common situations where Internet Sharing is particularly helpful:
- You don’t own a wireless router – no problem, let the Mac become one
- There is only a wired internet connection (ethernet) available, and you need to get a wireless-only device online, like an iPad or MacBook Air
- You’re at a location that charges internet access per device, rather than a flat rate for all devices, this is fairly common at hotels and airports
- Skirt the connected device limitations of Personal Hotspot (iOS) and Internet Tethering from mobile phones
Hotels in particular have a bad habit of charging customers a per device fee rather than a single per room cost for internet access, using Internet Sharing gets around that greatly inflated expense.
The setup we are going to use in this example is as follows: Wired internet connection -> Mac -> Other Devices, here’s a simple diagram to demonstrate this:
The wired internet connection can come either from something like a hotel or office ethernet network, or even directly from a cable modem or DSL modem from a standard broadband provider. Once everything is up and running, you can connect many devices to the Mac’s signal just by connecting to it’s broadcast SSID (the router ID). It’s easy to set up, let’s get started.
How to Share Internet from a Mac to Other Computers & Devices
We’ll walk you through the process of setting up a secured wireless access point, broadcast from an internet connected Mac to be shared with other Macs, PC’s, iOS devices, or anything else:
- Connect the ethernet cable to the Mac
- Launch “System Preferences” from the Apple menu and click on “Sharing”
- Click on “Internet Sharing” from the left menu
- Select the pull-down menu next to “Share your connection from:” and choose “Ethernet”
- Alongside “To computers using:” check the box next to “Wi-Fi” or “AirPort” (name depends on OS X 10.7 vs 10.6)
- Next click on “Wi-Fi Options” and name the network, and then click to enable security/encryption, and then type in a WEP key as the wireless password
- Click “OK” and confirm that you want to start internet sharing
You’re done. Your Mac is now broadcasting a wireless signal that can be picked up by any other wi-fi enabled devices.
Connecting to the Internet through the Shared Connection
Connecting to the Mac’s shared internet connection is now the same as connecting to any other wireless network, the process of which is generally the same for each device, though obviously it will be slightly different per operating system. Basically, all you need to do is treat the Mac’s broadcasted signal as any other wireless router: Find the wifi access point name you set (known as the SSID), enter the wireless password, and you’re online as if you connected to any other network.
Literally any wireless equipped device can connect to the Mac shared connection at this point, whether it’s another Mac, a Windows PC, linux box, XBox, Playstation 3, an iPhone, iPad, Android tablet, Apple TV, you name it, as long as it as wifi support it will treat the Mac broadcasting it’s signal just like any other router and won’t know the difference.
In terms of security, the network is relatively secure thanks to password set during the setup process, if you forgot that password you just have to disable security and re-enable it to set a new one. The newest versions of OS X support WPA2 encryption, adding even more security to the network, but older versions of Mac OS X offer WEP which, while certainly better than nothing, is less strong than WPA.
The Mac puts out a strong signal, but if you’re a perfectionist, you could then run the Wi-Fi Diagnostics tool and get the optimal signal for the network by reconfiguring the setup by rearranging things physically. For most purposes though, whether it’s in a brief hotel or airport usage situation, so long as the devices are fairly close enough together the optimization is less important, and you won’t need to worry much about getting things perfect.