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How iOS 9’s Wi-Fi Assist could land you a huge bill (and what to do about it)

Find out about Apple's new Wi-Fi Assist feature for iPhone iOS 9, and how you can stop it from landing you with a large bill.

When Apple overhauls its software it affects millions of people, and while the company may claim each new iteration is an improvement, it’s rare for a big release to occur without some kind of controversy – and the roll-out of iOS 9 has been no different.

By far the biggest gripe concerns Wi-Fi Assist, a new feature designed to ensure you’re always connected to the fastest available internet connection, but which could also mean you inadvertently incur extra mobile data charges. Read on to discover what the issue is, and how iPhone owners can avoid it.

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What is Wi-Fi Assist?

Wi-Fi Assist is an all-new addition to iOS 9 that constantly scans available internet sources in your area – be they wi-fi, 3G or 4G – and then, if enabled, automatically switches your iPhone to the fastest, strongest connection. It’ll only connect you to sources that you’ve previously accessed or are able to access without signing in, such as your home wi-fi network or mobile 4G signal.

Sounds great, so what’s the problem?

All sources of wi-fi, even your home broadband, are prone to dropping out of service on occasion, while others – such as a public hotspot – might be slower or less reliable than mobile 4G.

The trouble here is that Wi-Fi Assist could switch you from wi-fi to your mobile connection more often than you’d think. For example, if you connected to wi-fi in a busy cafe, you’d presume you were using that as your data connection, even if it was slow. However Wi-Fi Assist might analyse the slow wi-fi and consider your 4G connection a better prospect, automatically overriding your choice to use the ‘free’ wi-fi and switching you over to 4G.

That could spell trouble if you have a fixed data limit on your mobile contract, because you could consume far more data that you thought and exceed your monthly mobile data allowance, if you have one. If you do go over it, depending on your particular plan, you could be left facing a hefty bill.

Wi-Fi Assist – the solution

If you’re worried that Wi-Fi Assist could use more of your mobile data allowance than you’d like, there are ways to deal with it.

First of all, you can simply turn off Wi-Fi assist altogether. To do so, go to Settings, then tap Mobile Data. Scroll right down until you see Wi-Fi Assist with a ‘slider’ toggle switch, then tap it so goes grey and switches Wi-Fi Assist off.

If turning this new (and potentially useful) feature off completely seems a little extreme, there are other ways to manage how much mobile data your apps can use. One good way is to selectively deny which apps have access to 3G and 4G: go to Settings and Mobile Data and then simply tap the toggle switches next to any apps you want to stick solely to wi-fi.

Certain apps like Mail, Google Maps and Dropbox (if you use it) are well worth keeping switched on, but games and apps you only use sporadically should be fine to turn off. If you do switch something off that you didn’t mean to, don’t worry – just toggle it back on later.

You might also consider making changes to how apps update in the background (ie. when you’re not directly using that app). Some apps will use your mobile data to download updates or synchronise with servers while inactive, but you can prevent it happening.

As before, go to Settings and then tap Background App Refresh from within the General menu. You can stop any of the apps listed from updating when you’re not connected to wi-fi – just tap an app to select it and then tap the slider where it says ‘Mobile Data’ to switch it on or off.

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