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Wireless Internet Connections: Wi-Fi and Mobile Data

Phone and tablet devices connect to the Internet almost anywhere through cellular data or nearby Wi-Fi. What’s the difference between cellular data and Wi-Fi? Mobile phone services provide cellular data through their data plans. You can access the internet anywhere there is a phone signal using cellular data. Wi-Fi connects wirelessly to the internet based on a device’s location. A device can connect to Wi-Fi at home or in public places like libraries, stores, or restaurants.

Why is knowing the differences between Wi-Fi and mobile cellular data important?

Tasks like downloading new apps, sending/receiving email, or making video calls require access to the internet.

Many cellular data plans only give a certain amount of cellular data per month. Additionally, plans may charge extra for exceeding the plan’s cellular data limit.

In contrast, while connected to Wi-Fi you can use the Internet as much as you want without using any of the mobile data included in your plan.

Knowing when to use both kinds of connections and how to switch between them can save money. It is also good to know that options in “Settings” show how much monthly cellular data has been used.


Generally, an icon at the top of the screen indicates whether your device’s Wi-Fi is turned on or off. The image on the right is a commonly used Wi-Fi symbol.

Open Settings to adjust your device’s Wi-Fi connections. From the list of potential options, choose which Wi-Fi network to connect to. You will need to enter a password to connect to a locked Wi-Fi network. You do not need to enter a password to enter an unlocked Wi-Fi network.

Manually connect to Wi-Fi networks the first time you use them. Later, if you are near a Wi-Fi network you have used in the past, your device may automatically connect to it.

Use Wi-Fi rather than mobile cellular data for tasks like downloading apps and streaming video/audio. Doing this will help you use less of your mobile cellular data each month.

Mobile Cellular Data

Access mobile cellular data controls from “Settings.” Turn cellular data on and off by flipping a switch button between these two choices.

Your device will be unable to connect to the internet if you are not connected to Wi-Fi and your cellular data is off. Turn mobile cellular data back on to use the internet when you are out of range of Wi-Fi.

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


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

To quickly adjust Wi-Fi controls, swipe down from the top of the screen.

For more help and tips, check out these support topics from Google.


Adjust Wi-Fi and mobile cellular data controls from “Settings.” Tap Wi-Fi or Cellular to make changes to either option.

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

Adjust your Wi-Fi controls on an iPad by swiping down from the top-right edge of the screen.

For more help with Wi-Fi, check out these instructions from Apple.

For more help with mobile cellular data, check out these instructions from Apple.

Want to learn more? See our listing of online classes to level up your tech and mobile skills.