Does Playing Games on an iPhone Use Data?

By David Weedmark

Without Wi-Fi, multiplayer games can put a huge dent in your data plan.
i Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If you suddenly see a giant spike in your cellular data usage, your favorite iPhone game may be to blame. Not all games require Internet access, and if you are connected to a Wi-Fi network, even the most bandwidth-intensive games should not be using your cellular data service. However, the phone may automatically switch to cellular data should you step too far from your Wi-Fi router while playing a game, or if your Internet service goes down in the midst of the action.

Differences in Game Requirements

Most single-player games don't require Internet access once you have downloaded the game to an iPhone. Multi-player games, which allow you to interact with others over the Internet, can take up huge amounts of bandwidth, particularly if the game is rich in graphics. Interactive puzzles and word games that are essentially single-player, but give you the ability to share information with your friends, as well as single player games that use services like Game Center to track scores, can also take up bandwidth, but this is usually very minimal. Only a few bytes of data are needed to upload scores, whereas rendering real-time graphics in a multiplayer shooting game can take up several megabytes each minute.

Wi-Fi and Cellular Data

The iPhone is designed to connect apps to the Internet over Wi-Fi whenever such a connection is available. This means that if you are playing a game over the Internet, the app should always use your Wi-Fi connection, without using any cellular data bandwidth. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. If your Wi-Fi signal is weak, or if your Internet service goes down, the app can switch to your data plan without telling you. In 2012, following the release of iOS 6.0, many users reported that their iPhones were using cellular data even when they were connected to a strong Wi-Fi network. This was apparently a glitch in the new operating system, which took several weeks to be corrected.

Disabling Cellular Data

If you want to make sure that a game will not eat up your cellular data plan, you can disable cellular data on your iPhone. Before playing a game, just go to your iPhone Settings, tap "General," tap "Cellular" and toggle the "Cellular Data" option to Off. Disabling cellular service only affects Internet-based apps, like games, YouTube and Safari. Phone calls and text messages will continue to work as normal. When you are done playing, you can turn the cellular service back on if desired, or leave it off permanently until you find yourself without a Wi-Fi signal.

Tracking Cellular Usage

If you aren't certain if an app is using your data plan, or if you want to track how much data your iPhone is using, the iPhone has a tool for doing just that. You can find this by opening the iPhone Settings, tapping "General," then "Usage" and finally "Cellular Usage" at the bottom of the screen. The Cellular Network Data section shows you how much data has been sent and received during the period stated at the top of the screen. If you tap the "Reset Statistics" button before playing a game, you can come back to this screen to see how much data has been used since resetting the statistics.