What’s the difference between Wi‑Fi data and cellular data?

Wi-Fi and your cellular data coverage work together to help you get the most out of your cell phone plan. But what's the difference between the two?


A data plan and a Wi-Fi network basically let you do the same thing: use the Internet wirelessly. Some devices are built for Wi-Fi use only, while others, such as 4G LTE smartphones and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, have Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G LTE access. Depending on how much you use the Internet and where, a data-enabled device gives you the best of both worlds—fast, secure access to the information you need on the go and some flexibility on overall data consumption.

Wi-Fi connects to a router. Cellular data doesn’t.

Wi-Fi is basically just another frequency of radio we can use to wirelessly connect devices to each other. To use it for Internet access, your tablet or smartphone connects (over Wi-Fi) to a wireless router—like the one you have installed at home or the one at your favorite coffee shop that allows customers free Internet access. (The router itself typically plugs into the wall to connect to an Internet service provider.) Use your device’s Settings menu to access available Wi-Fi networks. Choose a network from those listed, enter the password (if required), and you’re good to go. You can set up your device so that it automatically recognizes your home Wi-Fi network or other frequently used networks, like at work or school, or you can manually access Wi-Fi when it’s available.

When you use data through a Verizon Wireless plan, you don’t need a router or a Wi-Fi connection. You can access movies, games, email, the web and more on your phone or tablet using Verizon’s network, as long as you’re in the coverage area.

Wi-Fi has a limited range. Cellular data doesn’t.

Wi-Fi only works within the range of the router. With your Verizon Wireless plan, you can access the Internet on your phone or tablet even when you’re out of Wi-Fi range. And those fast 4G LTE data speeds now cover more than 95 percent of the US population. So, when you’re on the road, in a Wi-Fi–challenged hotel room or waiting for the train, your data plan powers that map app on your smartphone. What a lifesaver.

Looking for security? Use your data plan.

If you’re using Wi-Fi at home, your connection’s security can be pretty good, depending on how locked down your own network is—which varies based on your router model and its settings. When using Wi-Fi to get Internet access in your favorite coffee shop or in your hotel room while traveling, though, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a secure connection.

If you need Internet access for another device, such as a laptop, and you’re not sure how secure the local Wi-Fi network is, you can take advantage of Verizon’s secure network using your smartphone or tablet. Activate Verizon’s mobile hotspot function in your phone’s settings, and it becomes a Wi-Fi router. When you use your device as a mobile hotspot, all the other devices accessing the Internet through it are using your data plan.

When you’re streaming lots of movies and music to your tablet or engaging in other data-heavy activities, it makes sense to use Wi-Fi, if it’s available and trustworthy. But if you’re checking work email or balancing your checkbook on the road, consider turning off Wi-Fi and using your data plan to protect your privacy.

Knowing the difference between Wi-Fi data and cellular data helps you better manage your overall data usage. Plus, when you’re making your next tablet purchase, you’ll have a keener understanding of which version you need—Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + Cellular Data.


The above content is provided for information purposes only. All information included herein is subject to change without notice. Verizon is not responsible for any direct or indirect damages, arising from or related to use or reliance of the above content.