How to enable Virgin Mobile's hotspot feature on your iPhone

Can't find the setting on your iPhone? That's because it's not there -- yet.

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Virgin Mobile

I've been mostly satisfied with Virgin Mobile service on my iPhone 5S, especially the $30-per-month price tag for nearly unlimited everything. But there's one feature I've missed: mobile hotspot.

Thankfully, the carrier now offers that capability, as $5 buys you a day's worth of using your handset as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five devices. (And your first time is effectively free, as Virgin is offering a $5 account credit between now and July 16.) However, for iPhone owners in particular, it's not immediately clear how to enable the feature.

Indeed, if you venture into Settings, you'll notice a complete absence of the Personal Hotspot option. Here's how to access it:

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Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Step 1: Sign into your Virgin Mobile account. This can be done in a desktop browser or in Safari on your iPhone. (Turns out there's already a bookmark in there called My Account.) Tap it, then sign in using your Virgin account number and PIN. For purposes of this tutorial, let's keep the focus on that phone-based option, as I think it's the most expedient method.

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Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Step 2: Once you're signed in, tap Settings & Preferences. Then scroll down to Manage Mobile Hotspot and tap it.

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Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Step 3: There's only one option here, and it's $5/250MB Daily Mobile Hotspot. (That may not seem like a lot of data, but consider that the average user typically consumes less than 1GB in an entire month. What's more, that 250MB isn't counted against your 2.5GB monthly allotment of high-speed data.) Tap to select that option, and then tap Update.

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Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Step 4: You'll see a confirmation screen noting your start date ("Now") and end date. Tap Next to complete the purchase. The following screen instructs you to "Go to Settings/System > System Update > Update Phone," but iOS has no such option. Instead, Virgin should automatically push an update to your phone. (See below if you run into trouble.)

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Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Step 5: Tap Settings > Cellular and you should see a Personal Hotspot option. Tap it, then toggle it to on. You can also tap Wi-Fi Password if you want to modify the random one created by the service. Now other devices in the immediate vicinity should be able to connect to your iPhone.

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Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

If you don't see the Personal Hotspot option in the Cellular menu, you may need to manually update your iPhone's carrier settings. (I did.) To do so, open the phone dialer, then enter ##873283# and then tap Call. Incidentally, those numbers spell out UPDATE.

You should also note that after your hotspot period has ended, the Personal Hotspot option will disappear from the Cellular menu. To activate it again, you'll pretty much need to repeat the entire process (sign into your account, buy the add-on, and so forth). It's a hassle, but at least the mobile hotspot function is now available.

Update: Want to get a little more bang for your buck? Plan ahead. When you activate the hotspot feature, it remains live until the end of the following day. So, for example, if you fire it up at 9 a.m. on Monday, you've actually got until midnight on Tuesday -- effectively giving you two days for the price of one.

 

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