July 28th, 2021 by GSC Customer Care

cellular data

Your phone has two ways it can access the internet—via cellular data or via Wi-Fi. So what’s the difference? And when should you use one or the other?

Cellular Data vs. Wi-Fi

Cellular data is offered by your mobile carrier and covers large geographic areas. Your phone 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.

When you signed up with your mobile carrier, your plan probably included a certain amount of cellular data per period, such as 10 GB or 50 GB (Gigabytes) per month. When you go over that limit due to your internet usage, there will be an additional charge. (If you don’t know how much data is included in your plan, contact your mobile carrier or check your monthly statement.)

Wi-Fi, by contrast, means your phone is connected to a nearby Wi-Fi router at your home, a business, or a public place such as a restaurant or airport. The internet data you use on a Wi-Fi connection does not count against the Gigabytes included with your mobile plan, so you can use it as much as you want without worrying about being charged extra on your mobile carrier’s bill.

When to Use Cellular Data

To avoid the unpleasant surprise of data overage charges, it’s best to limit your use of cellular data to these types of situations:

  • You’re not at home near your Wi-Fi router and no public Wi-Fi is available to you.
  • The only public Wi-Fi network you can access is slow, weak, or not secure.
  • You’re in your home country (as opposed to another country where rates are higher).
  • You’re only doing simple internet activities such as checking email or Facebook.
  • You have plenty of cellular data left on your plan for the month.

Keep in mind that everything you do on the internet through cellular data on your phone—from getting driving directions to looking up restaurant menus to watching YouTube videos—uses some of your allotted Gigabytes (unless you’re lucky enough to have an unlimited cellular data plan). How much is used depends on the app and the length of activity.

When to UseWi-Fi

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to use Wi-Fi on your phone instead of cellular data whenever possible, unless you’re conducting financial transactions and Wi-Fi security is an issue. You’ll know your phone is connected to Wi-Fi if you see the the Wi-Fi icon. If you don’t see this icon and you see bars with 3G, 4G, or 5G instead, you’re using cellular data.

As mentioned, the main reason for choosing Wi-Fi is to avoid paying additional fees for going over your cellular data limit. It’s also typically a faster internet connection than what you get when using cellular data. For these reasons, Wi-Fi is definitely best for data-intensive activities such as Skype calls, watching movies, or down loading music.

By connecting via Wi-Fi wherever it’s available, you can save your bundled data for situations where you might not be close to any Wi-Fi hotspots. Another benefit of using Wi-Fi to connect to the internet is that it drains less battery life than using cellular data, especially in situations where the cellular coverage fluctuates.

The instructions for connecting to Wi-Fi vary by phone, but 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 at the business so you choose the correct one. Also ask whether a password is required to connect.

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.

It’s also a good idea to check your cellular data usage regularly by going into the cellular settings on your phone or by using your mobile carrier’s system. 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 mobile carrier’s website, creating an online account, and setting up limits and/or reminders for your data usage.