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IOS Wireless Networking Cellphones Handhelds The Almighty Buck Apple

iOS 9 'Wi-Fi Assist' Could Lead To Huge Wireless Bills 182

Dave Knott writes: One of the new features introduced in iOS9 is "Wi-Fi Assist." This enables your phone to automatically switch from Wi-Fi to a cellular connection when the Wi-Fi signal is poor. That's helpful if you're in the middle of watching a video or some other task on the internet that you don't want interrupted by spotty Wi-Fi service. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi Assist is enabled by default, which means that users may exceed their data cap without knowing it because their phone is silently switching their data connection from Wi-Fi to cellular.
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iOS 9 'Wi-Fi Assist' Could Lead To Huge Wireless Bills

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  • Apple users (Score:4, Funny)

    by danbob999 ( 2490674 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:24PM (#50622363)

    aren't they used to pay more anyways?

    • by dk20 ( 914954 )

      Quoting the Steve Jobs line from the ebook price fixing lawsuit:

      “We’ll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30 percent, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway.”

    • But the same sort of things seem to happen on Android. A lot of stuff is turned on by default on Android and I was surprised to see a big jump in data usage the first day that I had my phone; which is bad because I have the smallest dataplan allowed. A coworker yesterday showed off his new Android phone and then was startled when he saw how much data had actually be used in just three days, after which he started turning off lots of stuff.

      Yes, I think some of this may be due to the extra work the low paid

  • Good to know, thanks (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:25PM (#50622373) Homepage Journal

    Turning off Wi-fi assist now.

    It's located at: Settings -> Cellular -> W-Fi Assist (all the way at the bottom). Yes, it was turned on by default, which I've now disabled.

    • Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:32PM (#50622431)

      I'm leaving it on because it's damn useful.

      When I'm leaving work the phone would grab onto the ever more remote WiFi, creating a kind of dead zone in the parking lot where the WiFi was too weak.

      When I'm at an airport with crappy WiFi I'd rather have the phone jump ship.

      Or if you auto-join some pay network you used before but don't have an account for at the moment...

      All are great cases for why this makes the experience of using the device better.

      Shouldn't you just leave it on an monitor data use for cellular to see if it looks like you are using significantly more data? The article is no good in that regard because it's quoting a report from a beta version of iOS9, which may have been using lots more data for all kinds of reasons.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:38PM (#50622471) Homepage Journal

        Why? I'm leaving it on because it's damn useful.

        Yes it's useful. But what happens when you're sitting at home, watching Netflix or Youtube on your phone, and your wifi router craps out? I'm thinking it might automatically switch to cellular without me knowing about it, and there goes my 4 GB for the month.

        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:51PM (#50622571)

          I find it useful to disable apps like Netflix from using the cellular network. Settings > Cellular, toggle it off.

          • by creimer ( 824291 )
            I had to do that for Wall Street Journal app when the express bus didn't have WiFi service for a week. Sprint sent me a nasty gram that I was going exceed my 1GB cap. I had to turn off cellular data for whole weekend until my billing cycle rolled over. That was painful weekend.
        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

          by ls671 ( 1122017 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @06:09PM (#50622689) Homepage

          Well, you should notice, I don't see how netflix could automagically start streaming to your new IP address, so most likely, you will have to restart the stream from the beginning. This makes the following sentence from TFS a bunch of mumbo jumbo:

          That's helpful if you're in the middle of watching a video or some other task on the internet that you don't want interrupted by spotty Wi-Fi service.

          It will get interrupted anyway...

          • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @07:28PM (#50623181)

            I don't see how netflix could automagically start streaming to your new IP address, so most likely, you will have to restart the stream from the beginning.

            You might not understand how, but that's EXACTLY what this does transparently. It's one of the use cases - streaming a video, moving away from the WiFi, and the stream continues transparently.

            Possibly you don't realise that just because it's streaming doesn't mean it isn't being delivered in packets. And packets can be re-routed and resent.

            You might not be used to being able to swap and change like this on your existing phone. But that's the point, this is a new feature that other OSs don't do as yet.

            As I understand it the difference is that as soon as the WiFi signal is seen to be failing the request for a packet is send straight away via Cellular. And whichever comes back first will get used. The WiFi will eventually properly time out, but starting to use Cellular doesn't have to wait for that. The details might vary slightly from this, but that's the essence.

            • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

              I don't see how netflix could automagically start streaming to your new IP address, so most likely, you will have to restart the stream from the beginning.

              You might not understand how, but that's EXACTLY what this does transparently. It's one of the use cases - streaming a video, moving away from the WiFi, and the stream continues transparently.

              Possibly you don't realise that just because it's streaming doesn't mean it isn't being delivered in packets. And packets can be re-routed and resent.

              You might not be used to being able to swap and change like this on your existing phone. But that's the point, this is a new feature that other OSs don't do as yet.

              As I understand it the difference is that as soon as the WiFi signal is seen to be failing the request for a packet is send straight away via Cellular. And whichever comes back first will get used. The WiFi will eventually properly time out, but starting to use Cellular doesn't have to wait for that. The details might vary slightly from this, but that's the essence.

              Other OSs don't do? I don't understand how? I don't know that streams are delivered in packets?

              If this really works, my guess is that Apple plays the man in the middle, netflix streams to Apple and Apple streams to you in order for this to work. Let me know when you understands how it works yourself so you can explain it to me. My guess is that it has nothing to do with the OS.

              Watch what you watch because Apple and some agencies can probably watch it as you do.

            • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

              This whole feature doesn't even sound possible. I can't find any details about how this feature is supposed to work, but there has to be more to it than "it magically opens another connection and it just works." The Wifi and Cellular connections have different IPs. The packets would suddenly be coming from a different IP address. TCP and UDP do not support that.

              At the transport layer, suppose a phone is on Wifi at IP 1.1.1.1, is authenticated, and is receiving data. Suppose the cell connection is 5.5.5

              • by jrumney ( 197329 )

                There's no way to tell the server "Hey, I know I'm on 5.5.5.5, but I'm actually that guy who was on 1.1.1.1 a moment ago, so start routing my packets here."

                You don't need to tell the server, you need to tell the routers in between. This was part of the IMS standards that the 3GPP came up with in the early stages of defining "4G" networks. Probably you can't do it with IPv4 addresses unless your local network and the mobile network are somehow co-operating, but there is a block of IPv6 addresses reserved

              • As has been pointed out, you can nay say all you want, it works. It's actually been part of the beta releases for a while but they have always pulled it before the GM release. It stayed in this time.
                • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

                  Hey Doug: See my reply to the AC above. It's clear we aren't all talking about the same thing. The parent posts and the article imply that the OS can automatically resume any network connection of any kind in any application. It does not do that. Then they run the Netflix app and go "see, it works!" when they are really testing the Netflix app, not the OS9 feature. What Apple provided is an efficient way for the app to switch networks. That's not the same thing. Try logging into your web banking, or

            • But that's the point, this is a new feature that other OSs don't do as yet.

              I had to disable this misfeature in my Samsung GS5 when I got it. And that was at least a year ago.

              • Then either it doesn't work as well, or you've got a crap service plan where you're paying by the MB.

                For my iPhone and unlimited data, it's the best feature of iOS9.

            • by Cyberax ( 705495 )

              You might not understand how, but that's EXACTLY what this does transparently. It's one of the use cases - streaming a video, moving away from the WiFi, and the stream continues transparently.

              iOS has support for Multipath-TCP and Netflix uses it. It's not automatic and not every application can utilize it, but quite a lot actually do. Unfortunately, most of online games still don't.

          • Well, you should notice, I don't see how netflix could automagically start streaming to your new IP address, so most likely, you will have to restart the stream from the beginning.

            You fail at understanding the internets today. It's already common for content to be hosted on multiple servers, and if the server nearest you goes away then you start picking up the content from another server. Since streaming video includes a buffer, it's entirely possible for your IP to change and for the streaming client to connect to the same or even a different server and for you to never even notice, so long as your buffer is large enough.

          • by jrumney ( 197329 )

            I don't see how netflix could automagically start streaming to your new IP address, so most likely, you will have to restart the stream from the beginning.

            I've never used Netflix, as it is only available in limited parts of the world without using a VPN, but I can't imagine a video service in 2015 that does not support restarting the stream from somewhere other than the beginning - like the location it had downloaded up to before the connection broke, while it still has enough buffer to seamlessly cover th

          • Well, you should notice, I don't see how netflix could automagically start streaming to your new IP address

            Netflix content is all pull, not push. The client side (web app or native app) sends a stream of HTTP requests for new chunks and pastes them together to give you the illusion of a constant stream. All that the OS has to do is drop the connection for one and the Netflix app will recover and issue a new request (with the same auth cookie) from its new IP address. The Netflix server doesn't care about your IP, it just cares about the chunk that you've requested and that you have a valid auth token for it.

        • wireless plan here in the USA. Additionally, AT&T recently increased the throttle cap from 5GB to 22GB [appleinsider.com]. I'm paying $64/month, by the way.
        • Yes it's useful. But what happens when you're sitting at home, watching Netflix or Youtube on your phone, and your wifi router craps out? I'm thinking it might automatically switch to cellular without me knowing about it, and there goes my 4 GB for the month.

          An application can set a flag for each request whether using mobile data is allowed or not. It's really simple. If Youtube doesn't do this and doesn't ask you for permission to use mobile data, complain to them.

        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @07:17PM (#50623107)

          If your WiFi router turns off any cellular device will switch over. At home the signal is never weak enough that it would have to switch.

          If the WiFi is just gone, then apps that aren't allowed to use cellular network (Netflix being one of this) will simply stop.

          I see very little downside for a lot of day-to-day usability benefit.

        • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

          Settings > Cellular > Netflix (Turn off)

          Best of both worlds now. Wifi Assist helps avoid weak wifi hangs, and your Netflix never plays off cellular unexpectedly.

          For youtube... that tends to be intentionally used on cellular to show people cat videos and whatnot, may want to allow cellular for that.

        • by Malc ( 1751 )

          The BBC iPlayer always warns me if I'm on mobile data rather than wifi. I haven't installed iOS 9 yet so no idea what they do in this situation. I'd hope this is covered through the API and app devs handle it sanely.

      • Leaving it on because wifi coverage in the parts of austin I frequent is so shitty that I like the idea of cell providers losing out on the free rape opportunity.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        With the current state of things in terms of cell network pricing in the US, this is defective design. It's a disaster waiting to happen. If any device is "using lots more data" then that's probably a serious design issue driven by the mobile version of "game developer syndrome".

      • Exactly. Every time I go to the airport I wonder why my phone isn't working and then I realize it's joined a pay wifi that I used years ago. It's a great way to miss your flight.

        I am wondering if Apple has some limits built in to the wifi assist. I was hoping the article had tested that but instead it's just speculation without any real information.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

          If you miss your flight because your phone isn't on a usable network, you, quite frankly, deserved to miss that flight.

        • by wcrowe ( 94389 )

          I get that it's a problem if the phone joins an old pay wifi network. However, I don't understand why you would miss your flight. I mean, you're at the airport, presumeably you know where you're going and when the flight is. There are monitors all over the place showing departure times and gates. You'd have to be pretty oblivious to miss your flight. I have never missed a flight in my lilfe, and for most of my life, there were no cell phones or wifi networks involved in getting on the airplane.

          • Really? The point was mainly for emphasis but... You've never had a connecting flight late where you need to run to a gate or a situation where a flight was moved to another terminal randomly? You can't imagine a situation where not being able to use your phone quickly to check gates or missing an update in this situation and not realizing why would be a problem?

            So, point taken, but... why?

            • by wcrowe ( 94389 )

              Yes, I have had those situations. That is why I check the departures immediately upon landing. That way I know exactly where and when my connecting flight is leaving without depending on some unreliable app. There was a time when people lived normal, healthy, successful lives without smart phones. No, I can't imagine being so dependent on some little electronic doodad that I can't get myself from one city to another without it. Of course I've had the benefit of survival training in the military, so you

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Not sure why Apple is getting a bad name for this. I had to turn off a similar feature on my Android phone, which was also enabled by default. It got me in the habit of turning off mobile data, unless I specifically want it.
  • The carriers really hate that "feature".
  • Question... (Score:4, Informative)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:32PM (#50622427)

    I have a question about wifi-assist: If it kicks in doesn't it tell the phone wifi is off? I ask because iOS prevents lots of things from happening over a cellular connection. For example: You cannot do a system update, you cannot download apps larger than a certain file size (last I checked it was 50 megabytes), and apps like Netflix have a "don't use cellular" switch. It seems to me that, assuming that those switches aren't bypassed, the likelihood of a ridiculous bill seems minimal.

    Pardon my skepticism, I'm one of the grandfathered unlimited customers with shitty wifi at work who is continually annoyed by these artificial limitations. I'd actually benefit from it if Apple went that far out of their way and fucked up that bad.

    • by nairnr ( 314138 )
      No that's the point. I believe it only works when you start the app connected to wifi, and then if it detects that it is weak it will switch over so it appears uninterrupted. I'm not sure how the don't use cellular switch affects it.
      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        No that's the point. I believe it only works when you start the app connected to wifi, and then if it detects that it is weak it will switch over so it appears uninterrupted. I'm not sure how the don't use cellular switch affects it.

        The betas had a bug where the WiFi Assist option didn't obey the "Use Cellular Data" or other limits - it assumed you were on WiFI when you were on cellular.

        I believe it's been fixed, so when it switches, to cellular, all the cellular restrictions are obeyed.

        It's handy for the p

  • Already on Android (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:36PM (#50622457)

    Android has had this feature for years and it hasn't killed my bill.

    I haven't had much seat time with it but my general impression is unless you have really shitty wireless it won't kick on. And if you have wireless that shitty then perhaps you want it to kick on.

    • by ethan961 ( 1895082 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:48PM (#50622549)
      Yeah, I've been quite happy with this feature. Usually, if Android temporarily avoids the network, you weren't going to be able to use that network anyways. If you don't want Netflix using mobile data, restricting it from using mobile data would be wise. Before this feature was in Android, I more frequently found myself attempting to use a poor network, turning off Wi-Fi to use mobile internet, and forgetting to turn it back on. For this reason, this feature has saved me more data than it has used needlessly.
    • by Pulzar ( 81031 )

      I always wanted this feature on Android! What is it called, how do you turn it on?

  • 2015... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gatfirls ( 1315141 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:37PM (#50622465)

    ...and people still have to deal with metered internet usage.

    Pitiful.

    Just price it in (it already is) and be done with it. Jeez.

    • Well, it's mobile data, and it's hard to compare 3g/4g phone internet to home computer internet. Even from the same company you get different data caps, different bandwidth caps, different prices per GB, etc. You can't easily use the phone to gateway you to the internet as many companies disallow this. But with wi-fi it's very easy to have your phone get to the internet through your ISP, or your employer's ISP, etc.

      Metered is important in a lot of ways because there is not enough internet to go around mo

      • There *is* more than enough to go around in most places, the only issue for like forever is how to properly monetize it. Since the 500$ monthly bill AOL days everyone who should does know the insatiable thirst for bandwidth, this stuff was charted out in board rooms to 2030 in 1990.

        Unfortunately, the installed brass at most of the big telcos/cablecos only know how to twist the knobs a bit right or left to reach peak profit for this fiscal year. Yet another byproduct of monopolies: Innovation suppression

    • Just price it in (it already is) and be done with it. Jeez.

      No thankyou. While on home internet I fully agree I don't want to subsidise heavy users with a more expensive bill. With "heavy" use I hit about 1.2GB a month. Home internet is closer to 200GB, but this is definitely not already priced into our current bill.

    • There's a finite amount of bandwidth available per cell tower, and those aren't trivial to build. It's not like fiber connections. If there's any problem with enough bandwidth for towers, it makes sense to charge more to heavy users.

      • Yes, the easy way is to just penalize usage: It reduces the need to upgrade infrastructure and increases profits. OR unload your issue onto wireless networks so effectively people are paying you to switch the data onto the other connection they also pay for.

        I know mobile data providers are under the gun, but they put themselves there.

        I'd bet a good amount that the future of telecom will be 'untethered' devices that operate completely from wireless(etc) providers and VOIP because the monopolies are simply

  • I hope it's just the data cap and not data roaming on by default as that can cost you $15-$20 a MEG or a the cost of a NEW CAR FOR 1-2GB of data.

  • Doesn't it already? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gnu-sucks ( 561404 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:47PM (#50622537) Journal

    sorry, not reading the article. But doesn't an iPhone automatically fallback to cellular data when out of wifi range? I'm pretty sure mine does.

    What's new here? Is it faster? More fault-tollerant?

    • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @07:43PM (#50623251)

      It covers the time when you walk away from WiFi and the phone can still see the WiFi, but data packets are failing. And it does so transparently and without waiting for (longish) time out.

      So there's no failed page load or dropped video on iOS9 like there would be on iOS8 or any other mobile OS.

      There's 2 places I consistently get hit with that. My work car park, and this one particular bit of road where there's a WiFi network on a known cloud service. The work car park one is particularly annoying because I usually want to do something on the phone as I leave work.

      It's the feature I'm most looking forward to when I get a 6s.

    • sorry, not reading the article. But doesn't an iPhone automatically fallback to cellular data when out of wifi range? I'm pretty sure mine does.

      What's new here? Is it faster? More fault-tollerant?

      Yes, that's what I thought. I had expected this feature to be "ignore crappy wifi that has no route to the internet". I'm disappointed that it's something else. I loath the TWCWiFi around town, some spots work and others turn the phone into a useless brick. All the TCSWiFi spots have the same ID, so the phone happily hooks up to it whenever it sees it - even when the router has no route to the internet. Lame!

    • this is to switch to data when your already connected wifi internet isn't working. it was copied from android 5.0 which has the same (a "!" appears in your wifi signal when it detects internet issues)

  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <(bughunter) (at) (earthlink.net)> on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @05:48PM (#50622541) Journal

    users may exceed their data cap without knowing it

    That never happens without knowing it on Verizon. I get texts and emails when I reach 75%, 90%, 100% and then at each GB over the limit.

    I have a teenage son. I get a lot of these notices.

    • I'm pretty sure T-Mobile would text me to let me know if I ever hit 75% of my cap, too. Fortunately, I've never even hit 1%, despite the fact that I stream music all day long. Turns out it's mathematically impossible to hit 1% of infinite (and I don't even mean infinite-but-we-throttle-you-past-X-gigs, though I do pay slightly more to avoid the throttling threat).

    • There are phone companies and ISPs that don't warn you. It's extra income for them when you exceed your limits.

  • good thing i've still got the unlimited data! i KNEW i wasn't just throwing money away!
  • How can you exceed a data cap? Maybe I'm misunderstanding what a data cap is. Where I come from a data cap is implemented on your provider's servers/switches/exchanges, you set the cap via a web interface and it caps your downloads (as in you can no longer download anything) when you have reached X dollars/euros/etc... or Y bytes where X or Y can be set to whatever value you prefer. If the cap is exceeded despite you explicitly setting it to some value its their own damn fault and they have to eat the costs
    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      You have no idea of how cellular access works in most of the world.

      You don't get to set the cap. You may buy a package with a certain cap. You hit that, and you start getting charged. Sometimes without warning. EU law says things like they have to notify you once you're already into them for £50 or so for roaming international. Note: Notify. Not stop. So while your phone is racking up charges for data abroad, you're being hit with stupendous costs, sometimes priced per Megabyte. I shit y

      • You don't get to set the cap. You may buy a package with a certain cap. You hit that, and you start getting charged.

        I use Pay-As-You-Go with unlimited data. Even with unlimited data, PAYG means the network can't charge you for a service unless you've given the money for it in advance.

        I don't believe in phone contracts. They are one sided in favour of the network. Why agree to such a contract?

        • There are decent post-paid plans, if you look for them. No contract, month-to-month, unlimited data (yes, really!), unlimited talk, unlimited messages. It's from a little-known operator - only the third-biggest in the country - called T-Mobile USA.

          There's not even a risk of throttling on my data, though I do pay a bit extra to avoid that. They'll try to limit tethering, but you can bypass that easily enough by running a proxy app on the phone. Bring your own phone or finance one with a clearly-defined loan

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )

      You hit the nail on the head.

      You are misunderstanding what a data cap is.

    • I've got a high cap on my data plan (it's shared, so I want a lot of margin), but if I hit it I don't want the phone crippled. I'm willing to pay some extra to keep the cell data going for the rest of the month.

  • No data plan. It's WiFi or nothing.

  • This was the first feature I turned off when I got my rose gold iPhone 6s this past weekend. I typically use about 600MB per month and rarely bumped up against the 1GB on Sprint.
  • by kevmeister ( 979231 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2015 @12:47AM (#50624541) Homepage

    I am a Comcast customer and everyone using their "home gateway" (most customers) are providing free, limited bandwidth access to other Internet customers who are within range. As I walk the dogs I find that I am almost continuously connecting to one house or another. Same when driving around. My phone checks for adequate performance when connecting, but hangs onto the connection even though throughput is about 10 bytes per second. and, even when the signal is lost, it takes about 20 seconds before giving up.

    I am forced to turn off WiFi to listen to stream or even get a sports score update. Then I get home and forget to turn on the WiFi and THAT is when I waste a bunch of my data allowance.

    As to not noticing the switch-over, streaming apps do have a noticeable "glitch" when moving from WiFi to LTE. It's quite likely that you would notice. The app has to detect the change, open a connection via the LTE address and start the new stream running before the buffer empties... when the low quality can only be detected until the buffer is already shrinking rapidly. There are several tricks apps can use to minimize the delay, but I have yet to find one that does the switch transparently on audio, let alone video.

  • Android has had this feature for ever... I haven't heard of anybody forgetting to disable it when they don't want it. Also, doesn't iOS come with a bandwidth watcher like Android? My phone shuts off data when I hit 95% of my cap.

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