Wi-Fi Assist: Learn How to Use It Wisely

by Karen Hendry on January 22, 2017 in Mobile,Wi-Fi

If you recently upgraded to iOS 9 or bought a new iPhone, then you have a new feature on it called Wi-Fi Assist. This feature essentially ensures that your phone will automatically switch to your mobile data plan if you go out of range of the Wi-Fi signal you are using. Obviously, this sounds like a winning situation, but it can have its drawbacks.

The Good News

Essentially, if you are at a place like a coffee shop or other location that offers free Wi-Fi, you don’t have to worry about losing your Wi-Fi signal. You might only be browsing the internet or checking your email messages. However, you might also be in the middle of an important download or you might be streaming something important. Imagine that you leave the building, even just to step outside for a few minutes, and all of a sudden, your Wi-Fi connection is interrupted.

If this happens, you will lose whatever it is that you are doing on your iPhone, right? Not if you have Wi-Fi Assist enabled. This little gem will automatically switch your device over to your data plan so you will not experience any interruption in your service. In most cases, it’s great, but not everyone agrees.

To Enable It or Disable It…

There are those who do not like Wi-Fi Assist, and there is good reason for that. Anyone who is on a limited data plan has to be very careful when it comes to using Wi-Fi Assist. If it’s on and the user doesn’t know it, say they forget to turn it off, then they can go over their data limit and run up a huge cell phone bill. Getting a surprise bill like this in your mail box or Inbox would not be welcome!

In a CBC report, one tech writer found that his data usage increased by about one-third, thanks to Wi-Fi Assist. CBC also reported that one teen didn’t know about Wi-Fi Assist and ran up a $2,000 phone bill because his bedroom had a weak signal and Wi-Fi Assist was on.

To be fair, in most circumstances, Wi-Fi Assist is safe to use. It will only kick in on a regular basis if you work or live in an area that has unreliable Wi-Fi or you spend a lot of time away from a Wi-Fi signal. But the danger is there if you have a limited data plan, so you need to be aware of that and remember to turn it off when you don’t need it.

How to Disable Wi-Fi Assist

Disabling Wi-Fi Assist is easy. You simply go into Settings > Cellular and scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen. There you will see Wi-Fi Assist and you just turn it off. You can see how to do that here:

You can also adjust your app data settings to minimize your use of data. Yes, you can choose the apps you want to have consistent access to your cellular data, which can make a huge difference when it comes to the amount of data used. All you need to do is go into Settings > Cellular and scroll down to your apps list. You can turn off the apps that you don’t want to access the cellular data, such as Netflix, FaceTime, and anything else that streams videos and music. This way, only the most important apps, such as email, will have unlimited access to your data.

Another thing you can do is turn off the Background App Refresh. When this is on, it allows certain apps to use data even when you aren’t actually using the app. You have to turn it off for each app individually, so you can pick and choose which ones will have access to it. To turn it off (or on) for specific apps, go into Settings and scroll down to the apps. Select the apps for which you want the Background App Refresh disabled and turn it off. You can also turn off access to cellular data from here.

If you aren’t sure how much data you have used for the current billing period, you can easily find that out, too. All you have to do is go into Settings > Cellular and scroll down to the bottom. Once there, tap Refresh Statistics. This will give you your current usage statistics and you can decide whether or not to limit Wi-Fi Assist.

How to Know if Wi-Fi Is On

At this point, you might be wondering how you can even tell if you Wi-Fi is on or you are using data. If you aren’t sure, there is an easy way to tell. Just look at the upper left-hand corner of your screen. If you see the traditional Wi-Fi symbol beside the name of your provider, you have Wi-Fi service.

If instead you see 3G, 4G, or LTE beside the name of your provider, you are using cellular data at that moment.

Apple’s Response

Of course, Apple is well aware of the concerns people have had ever since Wi-Fi Assist was introduced. In response to this, they created a short guide on their website to help those in need. In this guide, they do inform users of the following about Wi-Fi Assist:

  • It won’t activate when you are data roaming.
  • It only works with apps that are running in the foreground. Apps that are downloading content in the background won’t trigger it.
  • There are some third-party apps that stream or download data that won’t cause Wi-Fi Assist to activate.

Ultimately, Wi-Fi Assist is not an evil entity, but it must be used with caution, especially if you have a data limit. If you do want to have it on all the time, then it is important to ensure that the places you frequent, such as your office or the rooms in your home, get a strong Wi-Fi signal. If you don’t have a strong signal, you can boost your Wi-Fi signal using any one of a number of methods or technologies.

Just beware if you have a data cap, keep a close watch on Wi-Fi Assist and disable it if you think you might have a problem.

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