How To: Setup Wi-Fi Assist and other settings in iOS 9 so they won’t eat your cell data

The new Wi-Fi Assist feature introduced by Apple in iOS 9 has been causing a lot of panic over the past few days. But the truth is, there’s no reason to fear it, because for the most part we think it’s harmless and it won’t inflate your monthly data bill as lots of press reports have been claiming lately.

Its ability to make you unknowingly blow through your data cap is situational at best, and today we’re going to analyze Wi-Fi Assist and how you can tweak some other settings on your iPhone to get the best of this practical feature without increasing cell data usage.

How Wi-Fi Assist works

Wi-Fi Assist ensures you’re always using the best connection possible. The feature automatically switches to cellular connection when your Wi-Fi signal is too weak. For example, your iPhone is connected to your home Wi-Fi and as you leave for work and move away from the signal source, Wi-Fi Assist would kick in and switch to your data connection. but the same could happen if you were using a poor connection such as a public Wi-Fi network.

iOS 9 - Wi-Fi Assist
You can toggle Wi-Fi Assist on/off from Settings -> Cellular

Perhaps the one and only problem of Wi-Fi Assist is the fact it’s enabled by default, and considering iOS 9 is still very new, most people are unaware of it.

From what we experienced so far with this feature it only switches to cellular when your Wi-Fi connection is practically impossible to use, so unless you find yourself in this situation often, it’s safe to keep it on. And even if the Wi-Fi networks you connect to are often poor and Wi-Fi Assist will frequently switch to data, there are a few things you can do to limit data usage over cellular connection so you don’t have to worry about it.

How to optimize your iPhone for Wi-Fi Assist (and lower cellular data usage in general)

Perhaps this is the most important thing you should do, when it comes to optimizing cellular data usage, regardless if you’re enabling it manually or your phone automatically turns it on as needed through Wi-Fi Assist.

Turn off cellular data usage for data-hungry apps

Navigate to your phone’s Settings -> Cellular so you can see all the currently installed apps that can use your cellular connection. Toggle off the ones that are known to be data drainers (such as music and video streaming apps) and of course you can live without until you get access to a Wi-Fi network.

iOS 9 - Cellular settings

Also, consider which apps are essential for you – think email, chat , maps and whatnot – and keep those enabled.

Disable ‘App Background Refresh’ for specific apps

A large number of apps make use of background refresh – this means they can use data even when they’re not being actively used. to see the list of apps using the feature go to your phone’s Settings -> General -> Background App Refresh.

iOS 9 - Background App Refresh

Obviously this feature is useful for apps you use often, and not so much for the others – be sure to review the list and turn off background refresh for the apps you don’t need the feature to be enabled.

Turn off cellular data use for iCloud Drive

Through iCloud Drive your other apps can store data in the cloud and by default they can do it on both Wi-fi and cellular. If you have a monthly data cap it’s wise to allow this feature to work only on Wi-Fi.

iOS 9 - iCloud Drive settings

To disable it, go to Settings -> iCloud -> iCloud Drive and toggle off the ‘Use Cellular Data’ option.

Disable automatic app updates and downloads over cellular connection

Having your apps automatically update is a very convenient feature, and unless you actually enjoy doing it manually it is far more comfortable leaving this task on auto-pilot. However, app updates and downloads can be performed over both Wi-Fi and cellular, unless you specify otherwise.

iOS 9 - Apps and iTunes Stores settings


Open the Settings app and tap on the ‘App and iTunes Stores’. Here, you’ll find a ‘Use Mobile Data’ option that you need to turn off so automated app downloads can only happen over Wi-Fi.

As you can see, Wi-Fi Assist can be a great feature when your iPhone’s behavior while connected to mobile data is properly configured. It’s not the feature itself at fault here, it’s the other settings and the truth is, if you don’t set them up right, you’ll almost always use more data than you actually need to, regardless if you switched to it manually or allowed Wi-Fi Assist to do it for you.

Did you have any trouble with Wi-Fi Assist so far? Let us know in the comments section, or drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.