Apple’s New iPhone WiFi Assist Could be Secretly Gobbling up your Data

by Matt Klassen on September 28, 2015

For Apple lovers there’s no question that the release of iOS 9 a few weeks ago brought with it a host of new delights, including Apple News, increased battery life, and split-screen multitasking. But unfortunately there’s one feature that, if left unchecked, could end up eating into your data, and your wallet: the new Wi-Fi Assist.

Undoubtedly  Apple’s new Wi-Fi Assist feature is an innovative addition to the iPhone, as it stands as the forerunner to something we’ll likely see farther down the road, dynamic carrier selection. The Wi-Fi Assist feature is ostensibly an automatic support system that detects when a Wi-Fi signal is weak, and then switches the iPhone to a stronger cellular signal, if available, to help assuage the symptoms of diminishing Wi-Fi, like extending buffering and drop-outs.

As CNET’s Matt Elliott explains, “It’s a seamless and effective way to drop a weak-to-the-point-of-being-useless Wi-Fi signal.”

But while this feature may be great for the fortunate few still with unlimited data plans, the problem for the rest of the iPhone users with data limits is that Wi-Fi Assist doesn’t care about data caps or overages, it just cares about strong connections, meaning it will automatically gobble up data, without any warning, whenever your Wi-Fi may be weak…even in your home.

Let me say at the outset that as it was conceived by Apple, Wi-Fi Assist has many real-world benefits, most notably in the enterprise sector where it will allow business users to work seamlessly across multiple networks, meaning more unbroken connections on the go, which in turn means increased productivity.

Being the only non-iPhone user in my family, I have long been a firsthand witness to the frustrations created by the iPhone’s propensity to cling desperately to fading WiFi signals, as we’re often several blocks away from our home already by the time my wife’s phone switches over to her network connection. In this world where streaming content is increasingly popular, that annoying buffering window can mean a significant disruption, so I’m sure Wi-Fi Assist is a welcome addition.

But of course with almost every innovative step forward (particularly for Apple), there seems to be a least a few steps back, and so it should come as no surprise that the iPhone world has erupted with tales of the horrors of Wi-Fi Assist.

As TekRevue’s Jim Tanous explains, “In terms of data usage, Wi-Fi Assist doesn’t just help maintain interruption-free connectivity when the user leaves home; it also activates the cellular data connection whenever a user’s Wi-Fi signal gets weak, even at home.” So imagine you put your phone down in a corner of your house where Wi-Fi is weak–meaning your phone automatically connects you to your network–everything your phone does (downloads, updates etc…) will then be eating up your data allotment.

And again, it should be noted that this switch happens without any warning or indication and by default it is turned ‘On’, so unless you’re diligently observes the small icons at the top of your phone, you may have no idea your phone is connected to the network.

Now again, it’s obvious that Wi-Fi Assist is a handy feature, one many iPhone users will welcome. But the fact that it is turned on by default, that it operates without warning, and that it users data, means it has the potential to lead to significant data overages, more so if you’re phone does some heavy lifting (e.g. software updates) while accidentally connected to the network.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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