Wi-Fi Assist and Managing Cellular Data

Apple recently released iOS 9 with a new feature called Wi-Fi Assist. Wi-Fi Assist allows the device to use cellular data to keep your internet connection active in areas where the Wi-Fi signal may not be very strong.

Smart Network Switch
Andriod’s Smart Network Switch

Android has had a similar feature for some time called Smart Network Switch. To the chagrin of some users, they are finding their cellular bill higher as data overages have been incurred. With application management, you can find it possible to leave the feature on and still not rack up huge data charges.

Disabling Wi-Fi Assist

Disable iOS 9's Wi-Fi Assist
Disable iOS 9’s Wi-Fi Assist

Let’s start with how to disable the Wi-Fi assist. Some users may just want to turn the feature off and not risk those charges.

To disable Wi-Fi Assist:

  1. Launch Settings.
  2. Select Cellular.
  3. Scroll to the bottom.
  4. If the switch for Wi-Fi assist is green with an |, the feature is enabled. If it is colorless with an O, the feature is disabled. To turn the Wi-Fi Assist off, tap the green switch.
  5. To enable the feature, tap the switch again.

If you are concerned about the possibility of an extreme amount of cellular data usage and the fees that may come with it, we recommend disabling the Wi-Fi Assist, or Smart Network Switch in the case of Android users, feature off and manually controlling when your device is on Wi-Fi vs cellular network.

Managing Your App’s Data

The real problem is not the Wi-Fi Assist feature, but all the Apps you have installed on your phone wanting to take advantage of the phones connectivity. If you have 100 apps on your phone, chances are 98 of them want to use the cellular data, but do we need all those apps to access the internet at all times? Probably not.

When you were scrolling past all those apps to disable the Wi-Fi Assist, you may have noticed all those green switches. Those are the apps using your cellular data. Now may be a good time to evaluate if they need to be always connected. Think about how you use your device and use that to determine what is allowed to access the cellular network like in the following example.

You have an app that you use for restaurant recommendations, using the cellular network to see what is good on the menu might be helpful. While you are waiting for your food and want to check what is going on in your social network feed, it might also be good to have that connection. When your date excuses themselves from the table and you want to play a game while you wait, does that game really need to access the internet right then, probably not. When your date doesn’t return and you want to watch a movie while you eat your dinner alone, that streaming service is going to use lots of data and you will probably want to wait for when you are on your Wi-Fi network before you start binge watching anything.

Another feature that may be taking advantage of that data is Background App Refresh. While Wi-Fi Assist is only available in iOS 9, Background App Refresh is available in previous iOS versions. This feature allows an app to use data when the app is not currently being used. Social networking apps, email, and maps tend to have this enabled. If you frequently use these apps, it can be very helpful. For the other apps where it may not be needed, by turning off Background App Refresh you can not only save on date usage, but also on battery life.

To disable Background App Refresh:

  1. Launch Settings.
  2. Scroll down to the list of apps.
  3. Click on the app you wish to disable the Background App Refresh feature.
  4. Tap the green switch next to Background App Refresh to disable.
  5. In iOS 9, you can also disable cellular data from they area.

Features like Wi-Fi Assist and Smart Network Switch are trying to help you stay connected when moving between buildings on campus. With some due diligence with managing which apps can use that data and and refresh in the background, you should find that you are able to leave it enabled. Yet, if you are worried about incurring those data charges, take the stress out of your life and leave it off. You can always enable it later on.

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Ian Aberle

Ian Aberle is the IT Communications Specialist and Trainer for the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at Southern Methodist University (SMU). He started at SMU in 1996 and, for much of his career at the University, had managed the SMU STAR Program before joining the Training & Communications Team in 2015. In his free time, Ian enjoys photography and road trips with his family. You can see examples of when the two collide at ianaberle.com.