Comparison of Wi-Fi Vs. Data Plans
By Micah McDunnigan
Back when the Internet first was becoming popular, any device that connected to the Internet required a wired connection to do so. However, advances in networking technology now allow mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones or tablets to connect to the Internet over wireless connections. Today, devices can connect via Wi-Fi networks and/or by purchasing data plans for these devices.
Data plans for devices allow the device to access the Internet through your cellular service provider's satellite network. Rather than connecting through a hot spot, they directly connect to this satellite network in any area in which the phone is able to establish a connection with that provider's network. Different providers have different networks that provide differing levels of coverage to different areas, so it is important to look at a map of a service carrier's coverage before buying such a plan.
If your device has the appropriate technology, it can also connect to the Internet over a network a wireless router creates, be it a business hot spot, mobile hot spot or home wireless network. You will need the password to connect to a wireless network that uses a secure encryption method.
A major difference between using these two methods to connect to the Internet on your phone involves coverage: in order to use a data plan to connect to the Internet, you need to be in an area with data coverage. If you live in such an area, then you will need to use Wi-Fi if you want to use any Internet functionality your phone possesses. However, Wi-Fi hot spots are limited in their scope: once you leave the house or business in which the network broadcasts you will quickly be out of range. Consequently, data plans are most convenient if you are a highly mobile individual who wants to be able to get Internet on your device wherever you are (within the limits of your data service provider).
Devices that are capable of using data plans are fundamentally more expensive than devices that rely on Wi-Fi for Internet access, and you must pay monthly charges for mobile data access. If you go over your allotted bandwidth, just like going over your allotted number of minutes on a phone plan, then you will have to pay a fee for every megabyte you use over your limit. While Wi-Fi is more restrictive in where you can access the Internet, the technology does not cost you anything extra for the device to use the Internet.
Using Both Wi-Fi and a Data Plan
Most modern smartphones can access Wi-Fi networks even when running on a data plan. The phone will use Wi-Fi when it's available and the carrier's regular signal when Wi-Fi is not available to help you avoid running up against monthly data allotment limits.
Micah McDunnigan has been writing on politics and technology since 2007. He has written technology pieces and political op-eds for a variety of student organizations and blogs. McDunnigan earned a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from the University of California, Davis.