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Personal Finance FAQ

What to do When Your iPhone Says It is Connected to WiFi…But It Is Not!

Oof. No one likes to see that...
This is how useful my iPhone felt

Yes, I know…this is supposed to be a website about personal financial planning.

I spent quite a bit of money on our iPhones, and when mine stopped working like it should, I lost productivity and enjoyment. My money wasn’t getting the return I was expecting, at least out of my iPhone. So, indirectly, this is about money. It is also about saving someone with the same problem time because time is money, and I certainly spent a bunch of time Googling, working with Apple Support reps, and an Apple Genius and still didn’t get my problem solved.

Good enough?

At some point, back when I had my iPhone 5, I noticed that, when I came home, my phone wouldn’t always connect to the home internet. It would stay in cellular mode. Since I had an unlimited plan, it didn’t really bother me. Our apartment is an interior facing unit, so, surrounded by bricks, concrete, and rebar, signal doesn’t come in very well. We had bought a cell booster, which provided a stronger cell signal through our home Internet, so I did not notice a marked difference between Wi-Fi and cell service at home since they were essentially the same thing.

That was, until AT&T decided to abruptly stop supporting the cell booster and use Wi-Fi calling instead.

We were getting new iPhones anyway, since our iPhone 5s were getting a little long in the tooth, so I figured that once we got our new phones, the problem would go away.

Except, it didn’t.

I still would get problems like this:

iPhone Wi-Fi Doesn't Work by Dallas Financial Planner Hull Financial Planning

The difference in speed was now quite remarkable. When connected to AT&T LTE, the phone would sputter at a crawl, with tired pigeons carrying bytes back and forth.

iPhone Wi-Fi Doesn't Work 2 by Dallas Financial Planner Hull Financial Planning

But when connected to the Internet in our home Wi-Fi, the speeds were quite a bit faster – what I would expect.

iPhone Wi-Fi Doesn't Work 3 by Dallas Financial Planner Hull Financial Planning

I also noticed that my wife’s phone didn’t have these problems.

I suspected it was a hardware issue, but I was also not particularly bothered enough to do something about it. Just like debt or diets, sometimes you have to have an “I have had it!” moment before you actually do something about it.

One evening, at home, I noticed my phone being particularly slow. I went to Settings –> Wi-Fi and saw this.

iPhone Wi-Fi Doesn't Work 4 by Dallas Financial Planner Hull Financial Planning

The button that was supposed to turn the Wi-Fi on was greyed out. I couldn’t tap it to make it turn on. Eventually, the button came up. I tapped on it. The phone vibrated and the button turned green, but only for a microsecond before going back to grey. Eventually, after about a thousand taps, I got this.

iPhone Wi-Fi Doesn't Work 3 by Dallas Financial Planner Hull Financial Planning

Greyed out, but Wi-Fi connected.

I was getting tired of having to deal with this issue, so I pulled up the Apple Support app on my phone and went through a description of what was happening. The associate on the other end said that it was because I had Wi-Fi assist enabled and to disable it.

So, I disabled it.

I still had the same problems. The rep had me reset my networks (which is a real pain in the rear, since you have to go find all of the Wi-Fi passwords again) to see if that solved the problem.

It did not.

I started another session, and the rep did a diagnostic test on the phone. He confirmed that, despite me having the screen below, I was not connected to Wi-Fi.

iPhone Wi-Fi Doesn't Work by Dallas Financial Planner Hull Financial Planning

He helped me make an appointment at the Uptown Dallas Apple Genius Bar, and off I went.

The Genius who helped me was able to replicate all of the problems I was having (validation that I was not yet going crazy), and she had never seen the problem before. She looked in her Genius manual, or whatever help system they use and don’t let non-Geniuses like me access, and there were no answers in there, either.

Finally, she came to a conclusion.

It is either the software or the hardware.

Profound?

To try to isolate which of the two, she had me wipe my phone completely and start from a new install as if I’d just purchased my iPhone from the store. If it connected to Wi-Fi, then the issue was software. If it did not connect to the Wi-Fi, then it was hardware, and she would replace my phone for me.

Lo and behold, it connected!

So, it was a software problem.

I synced my iPhone from my backup on my computer, and I had the same problem again.

Therefore, one of the apps that I had installed was causing the problem.

Surprisingly, all of my Googling and 3 different Apple reps (including one certified Genius) didn’t know this basic problem:

You Can Install Apple iPhone Apps That Interfere With Your Wi-Fi Connectivity!

Here’s how I solved the problem:

I kind of knew the date range of when I started seeing the problem – it was between when we moved to Dallas and when we got our new iPhones, so I was at least able to figure out when the offending app may have polluted my connectivity. If you don’t know when the problem started, you may have to have a more trial and error approach.

  • Open up your list of downloaded apps. You can do this by using 3-D Touch on the App Store and pressing Purchased.
  • Starting from the date that you first noticed the problem, find the oldest app.
  • WRITE DOWN THE APP NAME! You’d hate to delete something and forget what you deleted.
  • Delete the app.
  • Check your connectivity.
  • If connectivity still does not work, reinstall the app. That’s not the offender.
  • If connectivity now works, you have identified the culprit. Never use the app again. Report on the app store.

I actually just wrote down the apps and then installed them all in a batch, but either way works.

It turns out that the offensive app was the North Texas Transit Authority Tollmate(R) app. Bad NTTA! Now that I have deleted the app, my iPhone connects to Wi-Fi networks just fine.

So, if you are in a situation where your iPhone says that it is connected to a network in your Settings or Wi-Fi screen, and the top of the screen does not have the Wi-Fi symbol, then you’re experiencing one of two outcomes.

Either, you are using Wi-Fi Assist, which switches to cellular data when you have a weak Wi-Fi connection, or you have an app that is interfering.

First, try switching off Wi-Fi Assist. That will force your phone to connect to Wi-Fi if it can (and save you cellular data if you’re concerned about using up too much data).

However, if that doesn’t work, then you’ll need to go through the steps I outlined above to find the offending app and banish it from your phone forevermore.

Bad NTTA!

By

Jason Hull, CFP®, was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business.

You can read more about him in the About Page.

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