How to stop iPhone, iPad, and Mac from joining personal hotspots when Wi-Fi is unavailable

You can control how and when your client Apple device should join a Personal Hotspot running on a nearby iPhone or cellular iPad if no Wi-Fi networks are currently available. Follow this tutorial to learn how to manage this feature and prevent unwanted cellular data charges.

Auto-Join Hotspot settings on Apple devices

What is Personal Hotspot?

Your iPhone has long supported creating a internet hotspot. Called Personal Hotspot, this handy feature lets you share your carrier’s cellular data connection from your iPhone or cellular-enabled iPad with other devices. A client device sees a nearby Personal Hotspot as a Wi-Fi network, and you can optionally set a password.

What if no Wi-Fi networks are available?

Apple has introduced some changes to how your devices behave when there are no known Wi-Fi networks nearby, like a toggle for allowing a client device to automatically join the Personal Hotspot that has been set up on a nearby iPhone or cellular iPad.

This feature is called Auto-Join Hotspot, and it’s set to on by default. Having made its debut in iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS Catalina 10.15, this useful new toggle is available on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch mobile devices as well as on Mac computers.

This failover method allows a client device to maintain network connectivity in case of a poor Wi-Fi connection or signal by connecting to an iPhone or cellular iPad with Personal Hotspot and logged into the same iCloud account. When the setting is on, it can even enable Personal Hotspot on the other device in case it’s disabled.

Explainer: How iOS determine which Wi-Fi networks to join automatically

Why you should disable Auto-Join Hotspot

It’s all about controlling your cellular data consumption. Before iOS 13, you had to manually join a hotspot if Wi-Fi was acting up. Now, your iPhone’s or iPad’s Personal Hotspot is persistent so that a client device can remain connected to the hotspot even when you put it to sleep.

In conjunction with the new Auto-Join Hotspot setting, this removes friction in terms of using Personal Hotspot. But if you’re on a metered cellular data plan, you may want to stop your Apple devices from automatically joining a Personal Hotspot without permission.

I can’t tell you the number of times I forgot my iPad connected to my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot before realizing it’d already downloaded app and content updates.

Yet another example: maybe your home Wi-Fi was acting up, which may have prompted your Mac to join your iPhone’s Personal Hotspot automatically.

A host device may see a hotspot as a regular Wi-Fi connection, meaning when connected to the Personal Hotspot, it may silently update your Photos library, decide that it’s now safe to download that pending software update, and more.

As convenient as this can be, at least in certain scenarios, you might want to disable this feature in order to prevent unwanted cellular data charges, and we show you how.

How to manage Auto-Join Hotspot

To change whether or not your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac should use a nearby Personal Hotspot every time no saved Wi-Fi networks are available, follow the steps below.

1) Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad. On your Mac, click the System Preferences icon in the Dock or choose the System Preferences option from the Apple menu in the Finder.

2) On iPhone or iPad, choose Wi-Fi from the main list of the Settings app. In macOS Catalina, click the Network icon in the System Preferences window.

3) On iPhone or iPad, tap the option Auto-Join Hotspot, then choose an option. The available options are:

  • Never: Stop this device from automatically discovering and joining nearby Personal Hotspots if no Wi-Fi network is available.
  • Ask to Join: Allow this device to automatically discover nearby Personal Hotspots when Wi-Fi is unavailable. You’ll be asked before a hotspot is joined.
  • Automatic: Use this option to have this device automatically discover and connect to a nearby Personal Hotspot when no Wi-Fi networks are available.
Turn off Auto-Join Hotspot on iPhone

On your Mac, select a Wi-Fi network in the left-hand column and enable/disable the feature by toggling the checkbox next to the option labeled with the text Ask to join Personal Hotspots.

Disable the Automatically join this network option if you’d like to stop automatic connections to nearby Personal Hotspots and avoid excess cellular data usage when a known Wi-Fi network isn’t found.

Ask to join Personal Hotspots on Mac

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