iPhone Feature May Incur High Data Overage Charges

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Published: January 11, 2016 @ 12:00 PM EDT

An added feature in Apple’s iOS 9 might bring high bills at the end of the month for some iPhone and iPad users even when they think they are not using data.

The new item is called ‘Wi-Fi Assist’ and it is intended to prevent disruption or inconsistent connectivity due to internet connection loss when on a wireless network. Wi-Fi Assist will utilize the user’s cellular network to compensate and allow for uninterrupted service while using Safari, Mail, Maps, or social media apps such as Facebook or Twitter. What it also does is count towards a user’s data plan.

According to Apple (link), if a user is utilizing Safari with a poor wi-fi connection and a webpage does not load, Wi-Fi Assist will activate and automatically switch to cellular so that the webpage can continue to load. Even though Apple explains that the cellular data icon in the status bar on the device will appear when in use, most do not consistently check that when they believe to be using a wi-fi signal. The company also states that Wi-Fi Assist will not automatically switch to cellular if a user is data roaming and that it only works when a user has apps running in the foreground. Wi-Fi Assist will reportedly not activate with background downloading of content nor with some third-party apps (although no specific app is mentioned) that stream audio or video, or download attachments, like an email app, as they might use large amounts of data.

Even with these preventive measures, some users have come to find out that they have used hundreds of megabytes – or even gigabytes – of data and have overage charges billed to them if they have a limited or low-usage data plan.

The feature is enabled by default, so users can go to Settings > Cellular > Wi-Fi Assist and swipe left to disable it. Wi-Fi Assist is all the way at the bottom right before Reset Statistics.

After Wi-Fi Assist is disabled, any user who experiences connection or lag issues can turn it back on, choose Disable Wi-Fi by swiping up from the bottom for Control Center and tap the Wi-Fi icon to disable it, or “Forget” any Wi-Fi network by going to Settings > Wi-Fi and tapping the tiny info “i” icon to the right of the currently connected network then tapping ‘Forget This Network’ and confirming the choice.

If Wi-Fi Assist is not listed, then the user’s iPhone or iPad has not been updated to iOS 9.