One topic we are asked about a lot is the relationship between Cellular Data (Internet) and Wi-Fi Data (Internet).
If you have a smartphone, which many people do, you can access the Internet. You can browse web pages, send and receive email, stream music, watch Youtube videos, keep up on your social media like Facebook or Instagram, play games, shop, check your bank account, and much more! Smartphones have two ways they can access they Internet: via Cellular or Wi-Fi.
Cellular Data/Internet means the smartphone is connected to nearby cell towers to send and receive Internet data. This gives you Internet access almost wherever you go – provided you can get an Internet-capable cell signal (3G, 4G, 4G-LTE, etc.). However, there is a catch. You typically only get a certain amount of Internet access – called “data” included with your phone plan. Everything you do on the Internet through your phone (browsing web pages, sending email, getting driving directions, looking up restaurant menus, watching Netflix, checking Facebook, etc.) uses your data, which is measured in Megabytes and Gigabytes (1000 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte). Each app uses a different amount of data. Email usually uses just a little data but streaming video (Netflix, etc.) uses a lot. If you go beyond the limit on your package, you will be charged extra on your next bill. This is not referring to the “speed” of your Internet as that is dependent upon your type of phone and the tower/service you are connecting to. With cellular, you get the “best speed available” all the time. This is referring to the total bits of data you are sending and receiving.
The general rule of thumb with Cellular Data is you only use it when (1) it’s important, (2) you have enough data left, and/or (3) you don’t have Wi-Fi. Typically, if Wi-Fi is available, you should use Wi-Fi (unless for security reasons). We’ll talk about that next:
Wi-Fi Internet means the smartphone is connected to a nearby “wi-fi” router or hotspot at someone’s home, a business, or local/public place that allows Wi-Fi connections. Any Internet data you use on a Wi-Fi connection does not count against the Gigabits included with your cellular plan so you can use it as much as you want without worrying about being charged on your cell bill. And with TCC’s Internet service, there are no data limits so you aren’t charged for usage on your Wi-Fi either! Wi-Fi speed can be good or bad, depending on the host’s connection and how many people are sharing it.
Wi-Fi is often considered to be “free” but that is not entirely true. If you are using your home Internet Wi-Fi then you are paying for it, you just aren’t paying “more” in order to have your phone connected and you typically don’t have limits on your Wi-Fi so you won’t pay extra for too much usage. Wi-Fi at businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels feels “free” but it’s likely bundled into the price of their products and services. You just won’t feel it because the added cost per customer/product is very small. Municipal or public Wi-Fi may be free for you but it, too, has to be paid for somehow. You just may not see or feel the charge.
If your cellular plan includes a limited amount of data to use per month, then you want to use “Wi-Fi” Internet whenever possible because it doesn’t count against your data limit. [If you don’t know how much data is included, contact your cellular provider or check your monthly cellular statement.] Typically the best plan is to connect to your home Wi-Fi when you are at home and when you are away from home, see if there is a Wi-Fi connection in places you go and – if it meets your needs – connect to that.
The instructions for connecting to Wi-Fi vary by device — usually you just look on one of your main screens for a “Settings” icon and press that. Then in Settings, look for Wi-Fi or Connections. Once you get into Wi-Fi, you should see a list of available connections. If the connection you want is not apparent, you may need to check with someone so you choose the correct one. There may be a password to connect. to view/connect to Cellular/Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi will take priority over Cellular so you don’t have to turn the cellular connection “off” every time you use Wi-Fi — just watch in case the Wi-Fi connection goes down and you switch to Cellular!
Here are some tips for managing Cellular/Data usage:
In your phone settings, typically under “Cellular” or “Data”, you can view data usage by app and turn data on or off for specific apps. You just go down the list and touch the app or the slider to toggle the access on or off. You can always change your settings as needed, but at least you’ll be less likely to have surprise overages. You can even turn your Cellular Internet off so you can’t use your data unless you specifically turn it back on.
You can control which app(s) can use Cellular Internet. Usually you will find these settings in your Cellular Data settings or in your App settings, you can enable/disable access to use Cellular Internet. This prevents unexpected data usage.
It is also a good idea to check your Data usage regularly by going into the Cellular settings on your phone or by using your Cell provider’s system (e.g. Verizon customers can call #data and they’ll get a text message with current data use).
A more proactive approach is to set limits and/or reminders via email and text when you are running out of data. This gives you a heads-up when you are close to your limit so you can either tailor your usage or add more data for the month. You can do this by going to your cellular provider’s website, creating an online account, and setting up limits and/or reminders for your data usage.
We hope this gives you a better understanding of the relationship between Cellular and Wi-Fi. If you have any questions, please contact your cellular provider (*”611) or TCC – 715-695-2691. TCC is no longer a cellular agent so we won’t be able to help you with billing or account issues.