The Wi-Fi Assist feature added in iOS 9 and available on cellular-equipped iPhones and iPads fills in a low-quality Wi-Fi network, supplements the one you have a weak connection to, or covers outage interruptions when your service Broadband breaks down. But, readers want to know, will this increase your mobile phone bill?
A few years ago, the answer (at least for US residents) was: Probably. In 2022, however, this is much less likely to be a problem.
First, Wi-Fi Assist only supplements bandwidth usage on the device. If you use your iPhone or iPad as a personal hotspot, you are already using the cellular network subject to the limits and rates set in your cellular plan.
Second, Apple doesn’t support all apps and services with Wi-Fi Assist. The company notes that Wi-Fi Assist helps “with most apps like Safari, Apple Music, Mail, Maps, etc.” It’s a little vague, but it doesn’t mention video streaming, one of the most bandwidth-heavy uses.
Third, a significant number of cellular subscribers in the United States have “unlimited” bandwidth on their cellular plans. It’s “unlimited” in quotes because cellphone companies don’t cut or charge overages on these flat-rate plans, but rather limit you to a low data rate (like 256 Kbps or 3G speeds), or reduce your priority among other users once you spend a fixed amount. This is usually 5 GB to 50 GB per month per line. Other subscribers pay for fixed amounts of data, after which they are cut off or have to pay additional charges for higher usage that month.
So you’ll likely only consume more bandwidth if you regularly use a poorly performing Wi-Fi network, and only suffer the consequences if that usage exceeds your monthly total above a threshold or cap.
You can check your current usage of Wi-Fi Assist, which is enabled by default, by going to Settings > Cellular and slide all the way down. My most recent usage was 916KB, or just under a megabyte, while I was using almost 2GB directly on my phone. Tap the switch if you want to turn it off.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Claire.
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