Can I force iOS apps to WiFi-only mode?
April 17, 2012 4:35 AM   Subscribe

How do I prevent iOS apps from using 3G on my Bell-account iPhone?

So Bell (Canada) reports obscene data usage on the cell phone, which neither my wife nor I can find any reason for. But Bell also refuses to tell us what the data was, or which sites/IP addresses were accessed from the phone, for "privacy reasons."

Aside from the obvious "Bell is making up numbers to soak us on our phone bill" assumption, I was wondering if there was something I could do to prevent apps from defaulting to 3G when WiFi was inaccessible. Our router seems to cut out from time to time (that's another AskMe in the future, probably), and we're wondering if part of the problem might be streaming audio that starts on WiFi and gets kicked to 3G when the router farts. Streaming audio that somehow switches to 3G without "warning" us is the only thing I can think of that can pull down the sudden 200 MB spikes in usage we see when reviewing usage.

I've been looking at settings, and I don't see any evident "only use WiFi" or "never use 3G" option for most of the apps, but I was hoping there was maybe something I was missing.

Jailbreaking is only a last-ditch apocalypse option, but if it's the only way I can control how data streams in and out of this thing, it's on the table.

In essence: I'd like to set the iPhone up so 3G works for telephone calls, maps and SMS, and only telephone calls, maps and SMS. I don't want to be able to access YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, BBC Listener, Soma FM, etc. etc. etc. over 3G.

Is this possible?
posted by Shepherd to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Youre looking for the Settings > General > Network > Cellular Data switch. You will have to turn it on and off when you leave the house to keep maps running.
posted by airways at 4:55 AM on April 17, 2012

Best answer: Settings->General->Network->Enable 3g->OFF.

You don't need 3g for phone calls or SMS.

Maps are apps.
posted by pompomtom at 4:57 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah, right, Airways' way will disable all network data. Using the 'enable 3g' option will limit data transfer to the slower options ('Edge', and the super-slow other one...).
posted by pompomtom at 4:59 AM on April 17, 2012

posted by pompomtom at 5:05 AM on April 17, 2012

I believe that turning data roaming off would also have the same effect, since you don't have a data plan with Bell Canada, but that's only useful if you do have a data plan with some other carrier that won't soak you.

If you don't have the iPhone on contract (ie, an unlocked phone using J. Random Sim) you definitely want to turn "Cellular Data" off as mentioned above. Then, the phone block is only useful for phone and SMS, and all data will have be brought in via WiFi.

Finally, streaming audio is one of the classic deathtraps when you're in a data roaming situation. 64kbps for one hour is 3.8Mbpm, or 230Mbph, or 28.8MB/hour. Given some of the roving charges I seen, that would hurt. Real life example of how much: the free SMS message that comes in when I land in London says if I'm using data roaming, it's $19.95/MB, so that hour of streaming would be a lovely $574.56.

Roaming Data *off*, and if you don't have a data plan, Cellular Data off. If you want mobile data without a cell phone plane, look into the mobile hotspots that are often paygo or non-contract monthly fees. The NovaTel MiFi is one example, there are others.
posted by eriko at 5:44 AM on April 17, 2012

There are all sorts of settings you can change. For instance, any email accounts you have on the iPhone are by-default set to auto-check for new mail every 5-15 minutes. You can change that to manual, which will eliminate some semi-regular traffic.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 AM on April 17, 2012

Best answer: I pay $10 a month for unlimited data in Canada through Speakout (7-eleven) on my iPhone 4 & 4S.

But there's a caveat. It's "WAP" data. Which has some limitations, primarily *no streaming over 3G* but also no VOIP, no Facetime, and no downloading apps. But maps work, web browsing works, twitter works, facebook, all the Google services in a web browser -- pretty much anything over HTTP -- works. It's not for everyone, but for my purposes it's a great deal, especially since I don't use the phone or SMS. Now honestly I'm considering switching to Wind, but the value proposition just isn't there right now, even at $40 for Wind's unlimited everything (e.g. throttling after 2GB) plan.

But if you're curious, here's a Speakout user Forum thread on the technical fiddlyness required to set it up -- you'll also need to cut down the SIM card you get from 7-eleven to the mini-SIM size. It's not for the timid, but it's an option people should know about.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:28 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

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