Difference Between Wi-Fi and Data
What’s the difference between mobile data and WiFi?
Mobile data vs WiFi
When you want to browse the net on your phone, use your apps or check your email or social media sites, you can either use a mobile data connection (sometimes called cellular data) or a WiFi connection.
Mobile/Cellular data connection
Using a mobile data connection means that your phone sends and receives data using the Vodafone network. The amount you have to use depends on the type of recharge that you’ve picked if you are a prepaid customer or the data that’s included in your plan if you are on a month to month plan or have a contract.
When you sign up to pay monthly or on a 12 or 24 month contract you can still use data after you’ve reached your plan allowance. If you do go over you'll be charged for the extra data, so we’ve got some tips to manage your data usage.
Using a WiFi connection when there’s one available means that your phone uses the local wireless internet connection. This could be the WiFi connection that you’ve set up at home, have access to at work or at a public spot like a cafe that offers WiFi. If your phone is only using a WiFi connection for data use it means that you can keep using data services without spending the data that’s included in your plan or recharge.
Here are what the two different connections look like on your phone:
When the two overlap
Smartphones are designed to make sure that you can keep doing what you were doing without getting interrupted. This means that your phone might switch from WiFi to mobile data without letting you know. It often happens when you’re on the edge of the WiFi network’s range, when the signal is weak or when the signal is interrupted.
Some phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and newer models come with a connection booster which uses WiFi and mobile data together to give you the fastest speed. To keep your plan data usage down you can switch this feature off.
What’s the difference between Wi‑Fi data and cellular data?
Wi-Fi and your cellular data coverage work together to help you get the most out of your cell phone plan. But what’s the difference between the two?
A data plan and a Wi-Fi network basically let you do the same thing: use the Internet wirelessly. Some devices are built for Wi-Fi use only, while others, such as 4G LTE smartphones and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, have Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G LTE access. Depending on how much you use the Internet and where, a data-enabled device gives you the best of both worlds—fast, secure access to the information you need on the go and some flexibility on overall data consumption.
Wi-Fi connects to a router. Cellular data doesn’t.
Wi-Fi is basically just another frequency of radio we can use to wirelessly connect devices to each other. To use it for Internet access, your tablet or smartphone connects (over Wi-Fi) to a wireless router—like the one you have installed at home or the one at your favorite coffee shop that allows customers free Internet access. (The router itself typically plugs into the wall to connect to an Internet service provider.) Use your device’s Settings menu to access available Wi-Fi networks. Choose a network from those listed, enter the password (if required), and you’re good to go. You can set up your device so that it automatically recognizes your home Wi-Fi network or other frequently used networks, like at work or school, or you can manually access Wi-Fi when it’s available.
When you use data through a Verizon Wireless plan, you don’t need a router or a Wi-Fi connection. You can access movies, games, email, the web and more on your phone or tablet using Verizon’s network, as long as you’re in the coverage area.
Wi-Fi has a limited range. Cellular data doesn’t.
Wi-Fi only works within the range of the router. With your Verizon Wireless plan, you can access the Internet on your phone or tablet even when you’re out of Wi-Fi range. And those fast 4G LTE data speeds now cover more than 95 percent of the US population. So, when you’re on the road, in a Wi-Fi–challenged hotel room or waiting for the train, your data plan powers that map app on your smartphone. What a lifesaver.
Looking for security? Use your data plan.
If you’re using Wi-Fi at home, your connection’s security can be pretty good, depending on how locked down your own network is—which varies based on your router model and its settings. When using Wi-Fi to get Internet access in your favorite coffee shop or in your hotel room while traveling, though, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a secure connection.
If you need Internet access for another device, such as a laptop, and you’re not sure how secure the local Wi-Fi network is, you can take advantage of Verizon’s secure network using your smartphone or tablet. Activate Verizon’s mobile hotspot function in your phone’s settings, and it becomes a Wi-Fi router. When you use your device as a mobile hotspot, all the other devices accessing the Internet through it are using your data plan.
When you’re streaming lots of movies and music to your tablet or engaging in other data-heavy activities, it makes sense to use Wi-Fi, if it’s available and trustworthy. But if you’re checking work email or balancing your checkbook on the road, consider turning off Wi-Fi and using your data plan to protect your privacy.
Knowing the difference between Wi-Fi data and cellular data helps you better manage your overall data usage. Plus, when you’re making your next tablet purchase, you’ll have a keener understanding of which version you need—Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + Cellular Data.
What is the difference between Wi-Fi and cellular data (3G and 4G)?
There are many technical responses to this question, but here is the answer most of us can understand. Hooray!
In general, cellular data service is available from your mobile carrier. The service covers a large areas – as in miles and miles usually. Customers typically purchase a plan that allows them to download a specific amount of data each period (2 GB, 5 GB, etc.). Cellular data is great for simple Internet activities, such as checking email and Facebook because it tends to be rather slow.
Wi-Fi is an Internet signal that is location-based, meaning the signal is broadcast across smaller areas, such as your home, the airport, your favorite coffee shop, etc. And what Wi-Fi lacks in range, it makes up for in speed – it’s super fast! Wi-Fi is great for “data intensive” activities such as VoIP (think Skype), streaming video, downloading music, etc.
Many mobile devices have the ability to connect to one or more of these Internet signals. Devices with both options often let you choose your connection type. Wi-Fi is a great way to offset what can be costly cellular data plans because with Wi-Fi, there’s usually no limit on the amount of data you are “allowed” to consume. Plus, again, it’s faster!
Here’s a little tech-talk so you can impress your friends. Cellular data Internet connections are broadcast in the 800-900 or 1900-2100 Mhz range. Wi-Fi is broadcast at 2400 Mhz (which means it can’t interfere with cellular in case you were wondering).
WiFi data vs. Cell data. How to save big and come out on top.
This past weekend I was hanging out with my parents at the beach. My step dad, who uses the big red carrier that shall not be named, got this text message:
“Why do I keep getting these texts,” he shouted! “All I do is check Facebook and read my email,” he proclaimed. “Why do I keep getting charged for phone data?!”
It was the phrase “phone data” that particularly caught my ear. “Well when are you checking Facebook and your email? Is it mostly when you’re around WiFi or when you’re around cell,” I asked. He just stared at me blankly.
“I have WiFi back at the house, but why are you asking me that? What does that have to do with my phone data,” he asked. My mind was blown.
Working at Republic, it can be very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, WiFi-First world. It’s easy to forget that others, even my own stepfather, don’t know the difference between WiFi data and cell data, or more to the point, the lack of a difference.
I then explained to him: “Well, data is data. It is used whenever you post something to Facebook, stream a song, or download and read an email. However, you have a choice of when to use that data. You can use it out here on this ferry boat we’re riding, which uses the cell towers around you to access that data, OR, you can use WiFi like you have back at the house to access that data. One causes you to get a nasty text message from big red with a crazy $15 per 250MB fee. One doesn’t.” You could see his eyes get bigger. He quickly stopped playing the video he was watching on his Facebook news feed.
“So then, do you know about background data,” I asked. You could see the confusion washing over him, which is totally understandable. I didn’t know about background data until I started working here either. To put it simply:
- Background data is data that is used behind the scenes by apps and the Android OS. This can also include data from actions you are aware of such as playing Spotify or downloading email messages.
- Foreground data is data that you deliberately use – streaming videos, songs, downloading a new app, etc.
So, lots of apps on your phone use background data even when you’re not using the app.Sometimes this can be helpful for notifications, etc. But then, apps like Facebook looooooooooove to preload and autoplay videos in your news feed you may not even care to watch. Those apps that use data in the background should be working for you – not the other way around!
I then let my step dad know that it’s totally fine to check his Facebook if he wants while out and about to pass the time. But was willing to bet he hadn’t turned that background data off for Facebook. On an Android phone, if you go into settings, tap “Data usage”, and then tap the Facebook app icon, you can then select “Restrict app background data.” Then, just to be totally sure, I went into the settings in the actual Facebook app too (found under “More” after you open the Facebook app), unchecked “autoplay videos” and set it to “WiFi only” and voila: Now his Facebook app isn’t eating into his cell data unless he is consciously using the Facebook app. Of course, if my stepfather had Republic service, we’d take care of some of that for him (shameless plug, shameless plug ).
For those curious about how the Republic app handles background data – no worries. You are never billed for cell data used by the Republic Wireless apps (account management, calling, texting, etc).You are billed for any other cell data that your phone uses. But we’ve got plenty of tips for turning that off, here.
As some folks in our Community have mentioned, turning off background data in the native Android settings is a surefire way to eliminate background data. We don’t recommend that because it’s a big part of what keeps your phone functioning as designed. You can, however, control background data app-by-app through Android settings under “Data usage”. This is handy for apps like Chrome,Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Snapchat that you want using data, but only when you’re actually using the app. (Note: Notifications for any apps you turn off background data for will not work over cell in this case. You will get them when you are back on WiFi or if you open the app. In addition, streaming apps, like Pandora & Spotify, won’t stream in the background while on cell with background data turned off.)
Your phone also keeps count of “data used” in a few different places. The only one that counts for your bill is the cell usage number in the Republic App. You can use these instructions to see cell usage for your phone.
So, back to the beach story. Later that night, back at the house, my step dad caught me chilling on the couch, watching a video on my phone. Proudly he said: “That’s not counting against you because you’re using WiFi to watch that video, right?!” Nailed it! Now he knows how to save a little more each month and avoid those scary overage texts from his carrier.
We’ve also put together tons of WiFi tips over on our WiFi Smarts page – good for any phone on any carrier – not just Republic. Take a peek and add your own suggestions for how you’ve saved more offloading data to WiFi when available. We love helping people save, even if they are on the big red carrier that shall not be named… Our new WiFi concierge service is here to help with step-by-step guidance too, if you need it. Enjoy!