The New Apple iOS 9 WiFi Assist Feature Boosts Data Usage-Truth! & Misleading!

The New Apple iOS 9 WiFi Assist Feature Boosts Data Usage-Truth! & Misleading!

Summary of eRumor:
Apple’s new iOS 9 has a WiFi Assist feature that eats up data plans.
The Truth:
It’s true that the Apple iOS 9 WiFi Assist feature leads to more data plan usage, but some accounts of how much more data the feature uses have been exaggerated.
Released in September 2015, iOS 9 came with new features, including WiFi Assist.
WiFi Assist detects weak wireless Internet connections and automatically switches over to the user’s data network to prevent buffering or slow browsing speeds.
The notion that the iOS 9 WiFi Assist feature leads to more data plan useage started after the website Quartz published a story headlined, “You might want to turn off this new iOS 9 setting if you don’t have unlimited data”:

The new setting, which is automatically turned on when a phone is updated to iOS 9, attempts to ensure that users don’t experience any buffering when on a weak WiFi signal. The iPhone will detect when a WiFi signal lacks strength, and switch over to a cellular connection.

This is great for when you’re stuck in places like the connectivity nexus right outside your home, where old iPhones would cling to the WiFi signal for as long as possible, but wouldn’t actually be able to load anything. But there is a cost: The switch to cellular could mean you’re using more data from your monthly plan—potentially significantly more than you’re accustomed to using.

Rumors about iOS 9 WiFi Assist gained even more traction after a Gizmodo reviewer reported that his mobile data usage had increased by a third since he had upgraded to iOS 9:

I’ve been using Wi-Fi Assist on my iPhone for a few months; even despite knowing what to look for (a greyed-out Wi-Fi icon), I haven’t really noticed it in action. But it has been showing up in my cell data usage: since downloading the iOS 9 beta that introduced Wi-Fi assist, I’ve used around a third more data a month (4GB vs my regular-as-clockwork 3GB).

It’s impossible to say if that extra usage is directly related to Wi-Fi Assist, but I have my suspicions. On the iPhone 6s that I’ve only been using for three days, my data usage is at 950MB; half of that is from Netflix, which I make certain to never use when I’m on the go. In fact, the only time I’ve used it in the past couple days was at home, using what I thought was Wi-Fi.

After it was established that the WiFi Assist feature leads to more data usage, the story quickly jumped the rails. The website Distractify reported that WiFI Assist was costing users “hundreds of dollars” and showed an image of a $17,148 phone bill (the bill was dated 2010 and unrelated to the story).
Claims that WiFi Assist costs users hundreds of dollars or “devours” data plans (as CBS News reported) are false and misleading.
How much more data usage WiFi Assist leads to depends on individual mobile browsing habits. But since the feature only kicks on when there’s a weak wireless connection, your data usage probably won’t change much — unless you regularly use a weak wireless connection to stream movies.
WiFi Assist can easily be turned off, too. Just open “Settings,” select “Cellular” and un-select “WiFi Assist.”