Coffeeshops, airports, libraries, heck, even grocery stores and Home Depot – free public Wi-Fi is (much to the relief of users with low data caps) is growing by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, many of these locations don’t have robust wireless infrastructures, which, combined with more and more customers taking advantage of the service, can lead to infuriatingly slow connections.
Apple thinks they’ve got a solution.
Called Wi-Fi Assist, the tool comes enabled by default on new iPhones, and some others that run iOS 9. Normally, when dealing with a slow Wi-Fi access point, you sigh, swipe up to bring up the iOS Control Center, disable Wi-Fi, and move on with whatever you’re trying to do (and if you’re like me, swear later when you inevitably forget to turn it back on at home).
Wi-Fi Assist works when your iPhone automatically detects that you’re on a slow or limited connection. You don’t have to enable it on a per-connection basis; the phone will do it all on its own. It incorporates your cellular data connection (generally LTE, but there’s no reason why 3G can’t also work) and the Wi-Fi point together to create a useable connection.
The upside to this: slow Wi-Fi connections will be less of a pain to deal with, assuming you have a decent cell signal.
The downside to this: you could accidentally burn through your data cap and not really realize it.
At its core, Wi-Fi Assist is a great idea. The worry comes with the fact that it’s enabled by default, without really informing users what that means. It’s a useful feature when you’re out and about, but you could also unwittingly use a lot of data at home, if you’re in an area of the house where your Wi-Fi signal is weak.
Our recommendation? If you’re lucky enough to snag an unlimited data plan – rare as that is these days – leave it on all the time. It is unlikely to do anything but help you out. If you’re on a limited connection like most of us, however, you may wish to leave it off, unless you know you’re going to be working in a spotty area for the day. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1. Tap on your iPhone’s Settings icon.
Step 2. Select ‘Cellular’ from within Settings.
Step 3. Scroll to the bottom, and tap the ‘Wi-Fi Assist’ toggle on the right.
And that’s it, your Wi-Fi Assist feature is disabled; to re-enable, just follow these steps again.
Over the next few months, we’ll be able to get a clearer picture of just how much data Wi-Fi Assist is given to use for the average iPhone customer; it may turn out that it uses very little, and keeping it enabled makes for a much better user experience. It might also end up showing that it makes the iPhone – already given to hogging data – even more data hungry, and should stay disabled most of the time. Hopefully, Apple will update Control Center at some point to make it an easy-to-toggle addition, perhaps by adding 3D Touch options to the panel.
If you do wish to leave the option enabled, you can keep an eye on how much data you’re using from this same screen.