Mobile WiFi - The Very Basics

Mobile device usage has really taken off over the last several years with the explosion of smartphones and tablets. Something that can be confusing for newcomers to the party is the difference between using WiFi and using a data plan for Internet access on your mobile device. Internet access allows you to use email, view YouTube videos, and many phone and tablets apps also require Internet access to work effectively. 

Dumb phone and Smart phone
Smartphones almost always need a data plan - this is apart from the voice part of the phone plan. If you use an older so-called "dumb phone", you may only need a voice plan (or may voice+text), because all you are really doing in making and receiving phone calls (wow, what a concept - using a phone to make phone calls). Smartphones need a data plan as well, which allows them to use the same cellular networks around the country to also provide them with Internet access - this is the "3G" and "4G" and "LTE" you see in the commercials.

Smartphones are also able to use WiFi networks for Internet connectivity too. This is handy if you find yourself in a poor signal area, but can find a public WiFi network to connect to. These are often available in fast food restaurants, malls, libraries, etc. WiFi connections have a limited range, so you can't use them as you are traveling along, unlike your data connection. But if you are going to be in the mall for a couple of hours, you can connect to it's WiFi network and use that during your stay.

Tablets, on the other hand, can usually be purchased with or without the ability to use a data plan connection (they may be advertised as WiFi only, or WiFi plus Data). The WiFi only models are usually less expensive - the idea is that you may just want to use the tablet around your home, and so can use your own WiFi connection. In that case, you really would not need a data plan, and so can save on that monthly expense, which can be non-trivial.

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