iPhone 4 Wi-Fi Issue Can Lead To Bill Shock

iPhone 4 Wi-Fi Issue Can Lead To Bill Shock

If you’re downloading large amounts of data directly onto an iPhone 4, you’ll obviously use Wi-Fi whenever possible. But be cautious when doing so overnight: you might find your iPhone reverts to using your more expensive 3G connection instead.

Lifehacker reader Holger wrote in to describe how he’d been caught out by this unexpected behaviour by the iPhone 4:

It seems that the iPhone 4 will not persist a Wi-Fi connection when it sleeps. It drops back to 3G. I was burnt by this last night when, after getting my iPhone 4 and upgrading from my 3GS, I decided to catch up with some podcasts by letting them download while I slept (I use an RSS app for podcasts as I prefer to download outside of iTunes). I awoke this morning to not only find that my 3G download limit had all gone but the remainder of my prepaid credit ($60) on Telstra had also gone despite being connected to the Wi-Fi when I went to sleep and having to turn the Wi-Fi off when checking my balance when I woke up.

You may want to warn others, I only lost $60 because that was all I had on my account. For those on a plan where Telstra (or other providers for that matter) just rack up the charges, this could get very, very expensive very quickly. The workaround for the time being is to turn off 3G when not in use.

Holger also provided pointers to a couple of Apple discussion threads which suggest this is not a one-off issue.

Turning off 3G will certainly avoid the issue, but obviously isn’t ideal if someone tries to call you in an emergency. Experienced a similar problem? Know a more effective way to avoid those hassles? We’re all ears in the comments. Thanks Holger!


  • Settings>General>Network>Cellular Data (off)

    Wouldn’t that do it? Just turn it back on in the morning.
    Or turn the screen brightness down, plug it in and leave it unlocked?

    Bit of a hassle but if wifi stayed on all the time your battery wouldn’t last as long I’d imagine.

    • Correct, and you can also turn off EDGE (data) completely and it doesn’t affect calls as far as I know.

      Yet another reason to jailbreak and install SBSettings for easy access to these toggles.

      Holger should have been aware that the all iPhone drops wifi when it locks, it’s apparent every time you unlock the screen and you’re briefly connected to 3G before it associates with your wifi. It’s a power saving feature. If you are downloading podcasts overnight turn off the autolock to leave the screen on and leave it plugged in.

      • Not necessarily, I have an iPhone 3gs that has no mobile network connection at all. Sold to me for 50. I use it as a iPod and have it hooked up to my home network. Even after going into sleep, it still delivers over the wifi notifications such as gmail, text plus notifications while asleep.l

  • As much as I would LOVE to be able to download files/podcasts/apps/audiobooks larger than 20MB directly onto my iPhone… Apple has imposed a 20MB hard limit for ANY download on iPhone over 3G.

    (I have 5GB data included in my Optus monthly plan so if I choose to download a 100MB app when I’m at work, then that should be MY choice IMO…)

    Anyway… would be interested if the OP of the article could clarify if, when the phone was sleeping, and downloading on WiFi but reported it used all the 3G data downloading podcasts… what was the file-size of these podcasts.

    If it was well over 20MB, and still used 3G data then it sounds like a “bug” in the iOS. Considering it’s supposed to have a system wide limit of 20MB for 3G downloads.

    • He was using a 3rd party app which doesnt have a 20meg limit.

      App wise, I too have a problem with the 20mb limit (missed out ona few free app of the days because of that), It should warn you if the size of the app is >20mb or if updating all just say how many mb it’ll be.

      However i’d probably not want to download a MetroView update at nearly 600meg, not for the quota issues, i have 3gig which i only use about half in a busy month, but the time it would take to DL, and having to keep the iPhone awake for that time.

    • I was using a program called “RSS Player” to download about 10 podcasts well over 20Mb each (Some 40-60Mb) while I slept. I do this quite often. Plug the phone into a powerpoint to charge and download, I hardly ever sync with Itunes.
      This program bypasses the 20Mb limit, but has the option to set to Wi-Fi only – which I had set (Still not sure why it went to 3g in this case).
      I had $60 credit on my prepaid account yesterday, all gone overnight. Was notified by SMS and Telstra confirmed.
      When I woke up this morning, I had to turn Wi-Fi off to check why my account was zero based on the SMS messages (I have accidentally made the mistake of downloading while on 3g with WiFi off so I checked that first – wifi was on) as you need to be on 3g to check your usage.
      First thing I did was call telstra to see what was happening and their usage stats had me on the internet downloading from about the time I went to bed for 2 hours).
      Searching, I found the links to the discussion threads to find out what happened and if this was a common issue.
      I have done nothing different to what I normally did with my 3GS which has not been upgraded to IOS4. I had never needed to turn off 3G before, but from now on I will.

  • I was under the impression that all iPhones turn off wifi when sleeping, which is why a the good apps that download data will prevent the phone from going to sleep while downloading.

    Personally id have thought that WiFi would use less power than 3g, but evidently not otherwise they would have kept it running.

  • This applies to iphone 3g as well,
    There’s an alternate workaround if you want to keep wifi on

    Turn your screen lock off, then wifi stays on (so too does the screen…)
    Settings – General – AutoLock = Never

  • i guess there is an api that when there is downloading in progress, wifi will not turn off when screen is off (it happens to be the case on the app store). may be is the buggy app the one to blame?

    • I HATE iTunes with a passion!!!
      I only install it for iOS update and then uninstall it straight away. Just find it sooo bloated and annoying on Windows. If I could update iOS with iTunes I would be a happy man

    • Itunes doesn’t run on Linux which is my main OS.
      I was quite happy with the app. Not happy about the losing of the data and the $60 credit but I’ll wear it. Just trying to spread the word so that others don’t get caught out.

    • I’m in the same boat.. I HATE iTunes… Apples days are comming I recon… If Microsoft imposed rules like Apple do on some of there products they would be in court in a blink of an eye… Apple is getting bigger so I think they will start having these issues soon as well which I can’t wait for being able to use 3rd party apps to update, sync my iphone with..etc..etc..

      • guys!!!! lol why don’t you see that Apple Products are like Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Etc. ??? They are for a SPECIAL KIND!!!??? If you want an apple iphone just buy it ’cause you have the money and you like the brand and you like simplicity. If you like to tweak your phone and have more control over it then buy an android. YOU ARE NOT wrong for buying either phone. It all depends on your likes.

  • This is also very important to take notice of if you have tethering enabled on your iPhone and plug it into your computer to charge and your computer’s network settings are such that it uses your iPhone when plugged in. The downloading on your computer will be fed through your iPhone and if it switches from wifi to 3G and your downloads are large, it’s bill shock time aplenty!

  • my iphone 3G would stay to connected to wifi, while device was sleeping, provided it was plugged into the charger. Haven’t tested this with my iphone 4 yet however.

  • Jailbreak the IPhone and install Insomnia which allows the phone to continue downloading over Wi-Fi when its asleep.

    Also, if you are in Australia on an IPhone, then you should be with a provider that allows quite a large amount of download over the internet.

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