What Does WiFi on a Cell Phone Do?

By Elijah Chau

Most smartphones can take advantage of wireless networks.
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Smartphones such as the Apple iPhone and Motorola Droid let users perform a variety of tasks, but Internet access ranks as one of the most important. With Internet access, users can check their mail, surf the web and download multimedia content. However, while carriers typically provide Internet access through their data networks, smartphones can also connect to wireless networks via Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity). Wi-Fi refers to a standard, high-quality connection over a wireless network.


Using Wi-Fi on a smartphone works much like connecting to the Internet over a computer's wireless network. Simply use the phone's network browser to locate an open wireless network. From here, you can either choose to connect to the network or enter a password for the network, if needed. Open wireless networks can frequently be found in places such as coffee shops, hotels or libraries---locations like these often feature free wireless Internet for customers. If you have a wireless router installed on your home network, you can also connect to it via your Wi-Fi enabled smartphone.


When your smartphone is connected to a wireless network via Wi-Fi, you can do multiple tasks. Getting an Internet connection onto your smartphone via Wi-Fi allows you to browse the Internet, use social networking sites or stream multimedia content, among other functions.


Most of the time, you'll find that your phone performs better on Wi-Fi compared with carrier data networks. While 3G connections have data transfer rates of around 1.5 MB per second, home Internet connections are typically much faster. This results in faster Internet performance, which can include page load times and download speeds.


Being connected to a Wi-Fi network has some limitations. Because wireless routers only broadcast their signal to a limited area, you'll only be able to benefit from faster Internet speeds when you're nearby. If you leave the network's broadcast area, you'll have to switch over to your phone's 3G connection. Most carriers' 3G networks have nationwide coverage, meaning you'll likely be able to get a 3G signal in most major areas but you'll have to deal with reduced network performance.

Data Caps

Regularly downloading content or streaming multimedia can cause you to hit your data cap if your mobile carrier has one. This can result in expensive overage charges or bandwidth throttling. Bandwidth throttling refers to a carrier reducing a user's upload and download speeds once they exceed their monthly limit.

Relying on Wi-Fi for these activities can keep your phone's data consumption low, since you'll be using a home network instead of your mobile carrier's. This will allow for you to avoid incurring additional penalty fees.