I have an iPhone 4s with the latest iOS.

It seems that when I wake it up from standby, it switches from 3G (or EDGE) to WiFi. Judging from that, I suspect it turns off WiFi when in standby, and only uses it when activated.

However, I don't know if that's purely coincidental, because a few friends of mine couldn't confirm it.

If switching to 3G data on standby is intended to reduce power usage, I would actually disagree, since often, a stable WiFi connection uses less data/power than 3G/EDGE with bad signal (which is the case in my apartment). Furthermore, I don't want to use my mobile carrier's data plan for doing background syncing/pushing, which my phone is doing 90% of the time when it's just sitting on the desk.

So, long story short:

  • When does the iPhone switch back to 3G even if it has WiFi signal?
  • Can I modify this behavior somewhere?
  • In my (iOS) experience, Wi-Fi is a big battery suck and I get better battery life with 3G. – user479 Apr 27 '12 at 0:19
  • If I only had unlimited data on my mobile plan ;) – slhck Apr 27 '12 at 6:56
  • I have a 6GB cap and I use Wi-Fi for many things, but it's very manageable. – user479 Apr 27 '12 at 18:04

As you've noticed, the iPhone switches off WiFi when it sleeps and uses 3G. This is by design. The 3G radio consumes less battery power.

When does the iPhone switch back to 3G even if it has WiFi signal?

As soon as you wake the phone it will being re-enabling sleep-disabled services like the WiFi radio. If you were previously joined to a wireless network that is still within range your phone should re-join that network a few seconds after you wake it up. Here is where problems can crop up - a burp in your router or temporary interference can prevent the WiFi from rejoining and if your data coverage is fast enough, you may not notice you are now on paid 3G data. Especially if you are streaming video or playing a game and the menu bar is hidden.

If will switch back to 3G if you tell it to forget the current Wi-Fi network it's joined to and have it set to no auto-join any other known network in range. Or shortly after you put it back to sleep.

Can I modify this behavior somewhere?

All of the Wi-Fi behaviour is set using the Settings app, under the Wi-Fi menu.

You can turn the Wi-Fi radio off completely here. This will stop the phone from searching for wireless networks altogether and you'll be running completely on cellular data services. (See #1 in screen shot)

You can set what the phone does if the Wi-Fi radio is on, networks are detected, but it is not currently joined to any of them. In this circumstance the phone can prompt you to join a network or do nothing and let you manually join a network if you so desire. (See #2 in the screen shot).

iPhone Wi-Fi Settings

You can also manually chose a network here. And, if you're currently joined to a network, you can click the > arrow next to its name to get the details and, if you want to, "forget" the network and disconnect from it.

iPhone Wi-Fi Settings for a Specific Network

  • So, let's say I want it to always stay on WiFi, even in standby. Is that possible? Or would that only work when I completely disable my mobile data? – slhck Apr 26 '12 at 15:00
  • It's not possible. The best you could do is prevent the phone from going in to standby mode. – Ian C. Apr 26 '12 at 15:01
  • Hm, I I just figured that it doesn't go into standby mode when it's charged, so that's a partial solution. – slhck Apr 26 '12 at 15:37
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    You can adjust standby/lock settings in the Settings -> Auto-Lock screen. Set it to never and it never goes to standby. You can also run an paid app to prevent standby like Alarm Clock. – Ian C. Apr 26 '12 at 16:06
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    Finally someone answered the question of WHY my disabled son who never leaves the house uses his data plan rather than just all wifi! Even the reps in the cell phone stores couldn't tell me this. – user36376 Dec 10 '12 at 19:56

I finally got around that issue by jailbreaking my iPhone (using Absinthe), and installing Insomnia:

Insomnia Pro is an application in Cydia that allows applications and WiFi to remain alive even if your iDevice is in standby mode. Insomnia Pro runs as a background daemon with a status bar icon, and survives reboots and SpringBoard restarts.

This is how it looks like:

The matter of fact is: In my room, 3G reception is terribly bad, so staying on WiFi will definitely consume less power than running on 3G all the time, and push messages now arrive instantly.


Apple assumes you want to be able to receive phone calls, which means leaving the 3G radio powered on, and also want to save battery life when locked/sleeping, which means turning power to the WIFI radio off. If you keep the phone plugged in to the charger and awake, then it won't try to save battery life.

  • This is partially incorrect. Making phone calls is independent of the data connection (3G), and does not depend on it being on. – Andrew Ferrier May 29 '12 at 6:19
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    @Andrew Ferrier : The same cellular radio amplifier is used for both (cellular data connections and voice calls). Either this radio amp is on or off, whether using it for one or both. – hotpaw2 May 29 '12 at 14:57
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    Even if they do use the same amp (which does sound reasonable), there is still a noticeable difference in battery life between having the 3G connection turned off and turned on. This is particularly noticeable when roaming internationally for example, where the 3G connection is often/typically turned off. I assume this must be down to processor consumption or some other reason. Whilst I see what you were getting at, I'm just clarifying that both from a functional perspective, and a battery life perspective, there is a difference between having 3G on and off. – Andrew Ferrier Jun 1 '12 at 13:42
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    EDGE is used for both voice and data. A distant cell tower will cause the radio to turn up the power. – hotpaw2 Jun 1 '12 at 15:48

Same problem was faced by me, other than the above answers the best way is to switch off the Cellular Data from the setting panel and re-enable it when you are sure that you are out of your wifi zone.

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