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Wireless Internet Connections: Wi-Fi Versus Mobile Data

02/09/2021 | Technology Skills

Your mobile device can connect to the Internet almost anywhere, either through mobile cellular data or nearby Wi-Fi. What’s the difference between Wi-Fi and mobile cellular data? Mobile cellular data is provided through your mobile phone service provider. This data can be accessed anywhere you have a phone signal. Wi-Fi allows you to connect wirelessly to the internet based on where you are located. You may have access to Wi-Fi at home or in public places like libraries, stores, or restaurants. You can manage these connections from your Settings.

Why is this Skill Important?

You need access to the internet to do many of the things your phone or tablet is designed to do, such as downloading new apps, sending/receiving email, or making video calls.

Many data plans only give you a certain amount of data per month and you may be charged extra if you go over this limit. With Wi-Fi, you can use the Internet as much as you want, and it won't use up your mobile data. Knowing how to use both kinds of connections and when to switch between them can save you money.

Using Wi-Fi:

Wi-Fi Symbol

Generally, an icon at the top of your screen will help you to tell whether your Wi-Fi is turned on or off. The image on the right is a commonly used Wi-Fi symbol. You can always open Settings to adjust Wi-Fi connections.

You will need to choose which Wi-Fi network to connect to, possibly from a list of potential options. A network may be locked, which means that you need to enter a password to connect to it, or unlocked, which means you do not need to enter a password.

Wi-Fi networks must be manually connected to the first time, then your device may automatically connect to it the next time you are in range of that network. It is recommended that you use Wi-Fi rather than mobile data for tasks like downloading apps and streaming video/audio, when possible. This will help you use less of your mobile cellular data each month.

Using Mobile Data:

You can access your mobile cellular data controls from Settings. One option you have is to turn data on and off, usually by flipping a switch button between those two choices. Once turned off, your device will be unable to connect to the internet unless you are connected to Wi-Fi. Leaving your data turned off is one way to ensure that you will not use it without meaning to. Remember to turn it back on if you need to use the internet while out of range of Wi-Fi.

There are options in Settings that also show you how much of your monthly mobile data you have used so that you can keep track of it.

You can also use mobile data to create a “hotspot” that other devices, such as laptops, can use to connect to the internet. You can access this option from Settings. Some mobile data providers charge more for this option. Remember that using your mobile data as a hotspot access point for other devices counts toward your monthly data usage!


On an Android device, you can adjust your Wi-Fi and mobile cellular data controls from Settings. Different brands of Android devices organize these controls in slightly different ways; you may see options for Wi-Fi or data right away once you open Settings, but if not, you may have to look under a category like Network and Internet or Connections to get there.

To quickly adjust your Wi-Fi controls, you can usually also swipe down from the top of the screen.


You can adjust your Wi-Fi and mobile cellular data controls from Settings. Tap Wi-Fi or Cellular to make changes to either option.

To quickly adjust your Wi-Fi controls on an iPhone, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

To quickly adjust your Wi-Fi controls on an iPad, you can swipe down from the top-right edge of the screen.

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Wireless Connections

Ready to dive into everything that wireless connections can offer? Read and watch these resources to learn how wireless connectivity actually works, how you can use it in your life, and how it has shaped our world.

The Book of Wireless

A Painless Guide to Wi-fi and Broadband Wireless

Ross, John

This book covers a broad range of topics; use it to learn how to set up your own home or office wireless network and get tips about using public networks more safely or explore the technical side of networking in more detail.

Wireless All-in-one for Dummies

Learn how to set up an office or home network with your Windows computer. Find step-by-step instructions that show you how to link your TV, computers, sound systems, and more to your wireless network.

The Smart Smart Home Handbook

Connect, Control & Secure your Setup the Easy Way

Juniper, Adam

This book will help you to make decisions about bringing smart technology into your home. Find explanations of how many of these technologies work, first-hand experiences of families who have installed smart devices in their homes, and reliable information about risks and security concerns.