Wi-Fi Assist – What you need to know

Anthony Caruana
29 September, 2015
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Apple is getting quite a bit of flak for a new feature introduced in iOS 9. Wi-Fi Assist transfers you connection from Wi-Fi to Mobile data when the WiFi connection performance falls away. Under previous versions of iOS, the device held on to the Wi-Fi connection for as long as possible, in preference to mobile data which is typically more costly.

However, Wi-Fi Assist uses some intelligence to detect when your cellular connection is faster than Wi-Fi and switches you over.

If you’re on a carrier plan with a hefty data allowance this probably isn;t an issue but if you’re on a limited plan you can, inadvertently, churn through mobile data even when you’re sitting at home on your personal Wi-Fi network.

As a new setting, there’s a bit of confusion about. It’s worth noting that because Apple is now using localised language in their settings (as evidenced by the use of “Rubbish instead of “Trash” in Mail) Australian iOS users will see the settings under Settings | Mobile whereas other countries will see the Wi-Fi Assist option under Settings | Cellular.

Turning WiFi Assist off

To disable Wi-Fi Assist – Apple has turned the option on by default – go to Settings | Mobile and scroll right down to the bottom of the list of apps. If you’ve installed lots of apps, that might be quite a long way down.

Once you’re there, you can turn Wi-Fi Assist off.

Is this a big deal?

A lot of ink and pixels have been spilled over the potential for bill shock that this new setting can potentially result in. And I’ve seen all sorts of inflammatory images used – one story showed a bill with over $17000 of mobile charges on it. That’s plain nonsense as iOS 9 has been out for less than two weeks.

Australian telcos have operated under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code since September 2013. This code includes compulsory alerts to residential customers when they’ve reached 50%, 85% and 100% of their data allowance. They also receive information about excess data fees after the 100% warning.

So, for Australian customers, providing you pay attention to alerts, the likelihood of getting stung with bill shock is pretty slim.

However, the potential for running your data allowance down quickly does remain.

What to do

If you’re concerned, go to Settings | Mobile, scroll to the bottom of the screen and turn off Wi-Fi Assist.

Also, scroll through the list of apps at Settings | Mobile and decide which apps can actually mobile data.

Hitting the Reset Statistics option is probably a good idea as well, This will zero the counters iOS uses to track how much data you’ve used and which apps have used it. Then you can see which apps are using the most data with and without Wi-Fi Assist to determine whether it’s a significant cause of your data use.

With the release of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, all of the local carriers have updated their data plans. in many cases, they have increased the data allowances. In our case, we were increased from a generous 4GB per month to a mammoth 12GB at no cost. It’s worth checking what’s changed as telcos update their offerings regularly.

For now, there seems to be a lot of hysteria about the Wi-Fi Assist setting. We suggest doing some proper analysis of your own data usage, keeping an eye on usage alerts from your carrier and looking at whether you can increase your data allowance at no cost.

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