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Watch out! iOS 6 can jack up your phone bill

Galen Gruman | Sept. 24, 2012
Steer clear of sticker shock -- follow these steps to disable the iO6 features that can eat up your iPhone or iPad's data plan

There are many nice enhancements in iOS 6, but if you have an iPhone or cellular iPad running the updated Apple mobile OS, watch out. Several new settings can quickly run up your cellular bill or exhaust your data allotment before you realize it. Here's what you need to know if you've upgraded your iPhone 3G S or later or your iPad to iOS 6.

The basic issue is that iOS 6 provides more ways for your iPhone and iPad to use cellular data, perhaps without your knowing it. And as AT&T and Verizon Wireless -- the providers accounting for the vast majority of U.S. iPhone users -- continue to push users into capped data plans, that continual connectivity can get very pricey. For example, were I to get a new smartphone, my Verizon Wireless family plan would jump from $180 per month to $240, with less data, due to the new pricing structure that penalizes those who talk little and use data moderately, as I do (about 450MB per device per month). iPad users are already on such capped plans.

This is part of a worrisome trend that has caused the FCC to suggest it may rethink cellular data caps. Worse, landline carriers are all salivating to start metering wired broadband, too. The always-on imperative of Internet-connected computing is causing a real tension between access and affordability, one exacerbated by well-intentioned connection settings in iOS 6.

iOS 6's cellular data settings

For example, a new option for the iPhone 5 called Wi-Fi Plus Cellular automatically lets apps switch from Wi-Fi to cellular service if they encounter Wi-Fi connection issues. That helps assure continuous data access, but it also lets apps deplete your data or incur data overage charges without your knowledge. Unless you have an unlimited data plan, you should turn this new feature off.

To do so on an iPhone 5, go to the Settings app, tap General, then tap Cellular, and set the Wi-Fi Plus Cellular switch to Off. Previous iPhone models as well as cellular iPads have no such option; applications automatically use cellular connections if Wi-Fi gets wonky. (You can turn off cellular connectivity completely in the Cellular Data pane of the Settings app.)

Regardless of your iPhone or iPad model, scroll down in the Cellular settings pane in the iPhone or the Cellular Data settings pane in the iPad to review several related new options in the Use Cellular Data For area. Previous versions of iOS let you control whether iTunes delivered music, apps, and so on via cellular data, but iOS 6 expands the number of services whose cellular access you can control.

 

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