Difference between Cellular Data and 3G on iPhone

If you are reading this, you probably faced a situation similar to mine. You noticed that you were reaching your data limit on your cell phone plan with AT&T and you wanted a way to disable the feature that is causing your data plan to be used on your iPhone.

When you went to Settings > General > Network, you found 2 On/Off switches for 3G and Cellular data. You don’t know which one to disable and what the impact of disabling either will be. Short answer, by simply disabling Cellular Data you will not use anymore of your data plan. You can leave 3G on or off, that is optional. For more info, continue reading, otherwise, GO TURN IT OFF NOW, until your next data usage cycles renews. =)

Okay, if you are interested in knowing a little more or where I received my information, here it is. 3G is a supplemental technology that enables you to talk and surf the web at the same time. It enables faster loading of pages, mail messages, etcetera. So, if you were to disable 3G alone, you are still able to use up your cell phone data. 3G only makes things faster for you.

You are probably wondering: “Will text messaging still work if I disable my Cellular Data?”

The answer is “YES”. They will. In fact, I just finished checking that before I completed this sentence.

If you are the untrusting type, then your next thought may be “How do you know all this?” I got off the phone not more than 5 minutes ago with an AT&T rep and asked the exact same questions.



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38 responses to “Difference between Cellular Data and 3G on iPhone

  1. Bilal

    Thhhaaaaaankks πŸ˜€ you helped alottt πŸ˜€ ❀ xxxxx

  2. Meg

    I just got the iphone 3G, 2 weeks ago and started realized today that I was using data even though I thought I was on my home wifi. After I searched the att site, and a few other places, I realize I’m not the only one that has had this problem. I found some great info but you were the only one that answered my question about what the difference is between cellular data and 3G. Thanks for taking the time to share what you learned!

  3. Bella

    This is useful tips! Thanks! I normally keep my wifi on so my iPhone can detect it wherever I go. If I don’t see it that means it’s time to turn on Cellular Data and if I want it to run faster I turn on 3G as well. 3G will use up battery in the speed of light though. Mind. -_-


    I’ve encountered a data usage problem in that I have burned thru my data plan and over incurring an overage charge in less than 5 days into the new billing period. I’m hoping you can assist? I’ve own ed an iPhone 4 about 1.5 yrs, I have a WIFI connection at home where I use the data features the most. I subscribe to the smallest dataplan AT&T offers never utilizing the plan fully during the previous months. I want a data plan in the event I need it when I’m not home. I’ve contacted AT&T they said to go to Apple, Apple said I would have to pay for technical assistance? I don’t understand how this happening I’m at home, I received the text message 3 days into the new billing period that i had used 65% of the plan. I can see the WIFI icon and verified that i am connected, i have a laptop that is working fine off the wireless router. Howeve, I’m still using AT&T’s data plan, the manual states the phone will automatically connect to the previos WIFI connect before going to the carrier’s data plan if you cannot connect to WIFI. The phone is not sending the notification “unable to connect to WIFI”. I’ve turned off the celluar data a few minutes ago but I would like to have Internet access when I am not home. Moreover, i need to find out why all of a sudden my data usage is not running on the WIFI connect when the phone shows it to be?

  5. The undetected usage may be coming from apps that you’ve allowed permission to connect to the internet. For example the facebook app, or more commonly your e-mail account(s). If various apps on your phone have a persistent connection they will be sending and receiving packets of data all the time (even when your phone is not in use). Disable these apps from doing this. Also change your e-mail settings to only download when you open up your e-mail client. That way you have more control of when your data is being used. This may mean that you won’t receive instant facebook updates though, but you can begin enabling certain apps that aren’t data hogs over time (play it by ear).

    Also, data usage charts/graphs are not always up to date when you log into your AT&T account, so don’t be surprised if they don’t accurately represent your usage at the moment. My experience is that they are usually a day behind in reflecting your actual data usage.

  6. Pingback: Iphone Data Roaming Settings For International Travel – or how to avoid racking up an $8 billion dollar roaming charge! « lifetart

  7. S

    Oscar… riddle me this; Am I correct in thinking my safest bet whilst overseas is to simply switch 3g & Cellular data to OFF, thereby disabling any connection whatever between my handset and my phone company?

    And so then being reliant on wifi and nothing else?

    Or is there a ihole in my itheory?

    • To answer your question you can simply turn your Cellular data Off (on your iPhone). You don’t need to tinker with the 3G part. That’s optional. But you might as well. You will still be able to send text messages after you do this. That might change when you are overseas though. Check w/ your phone company.

      Off topic; When I was in Mexico, I sent a text or two out successfully but did not receive anything back, and I did not have any features disabled. I also made calls (oddly enough the call quality was rather good). I was charged roaming fees for the calls.

  8. Daphney

    so if I have cellular data off and 3g, i won’t get charged for the 3g? because with 3g on…my bar service kind of sucks

  9. Bryan ensomo

    I have iphone 4s i didn’t found 3g enable on/off only enable cellular data, is that mean that my iphone dont have 3g? only wifi?

  10. dory

    i’m so confused about my data plan and 3g.. when i turn on my 3g it will affect my data plan? even thou i’m using wifi??

    • It will affect it if you have your cellular data on. But it will probably affect things less with 3G off. 3G makes data communication faster. If you don’t want any data to be used turn off cellular data on your phone.

  11. cheah

    oh no~ this question keep on make me confuse, but you have answer it to me…thank you very much!

  12. juanita

    hi i am looking in buying an ipad…. ipad 2 or ipad 3…. what are your suggestions and can you tell me what is the difference between wifi + cellular and wifi+3G.. thanks

    • Cellular in iPad 3 is using the 4G LTE. This is something you will have to subscribe to with Verizon or AT&T. You should check your coverage area. Also be aware that there are data limits, so if you will be watching a lot of videos you can go over your data usage and be charged more.

      WiFi allows you to connect to a wireless router at home or any where free WiFi is provided. It will not cost extra.

      So if you need internet access on the go, then choose WIFI + cellular. If not WiFi alone is good enough

  13. Rhonda Hutchings

    Hi I’m in Australia & am wanting to buy an I phone 5. There is a huge price difference from Australia to USA & other countries. I was going to purchase an Iphone from another country & noticed the difference was Australia has 3G & others have cellular. Will this affect the phone in Australia? Can i change it in the settings as listed above in the answers?

    • Hi Rhonda. The iPhone 4S did not have this option so I think that you will only be able to switch your data off completely and not select between 3G and/or cellular. Sorry for the delayed response. I hope this answered your question.

  14. I know I’m not very bright… I still don’t get what would be the benefit of having “3g ON” and “Cellular data OFF”. can anyone explain to me?

    • 3G and Cellular data are the same thing essentially, but think of Cellular data as a Ford Mustang. The base model is a car that will run. It will get you from point A to point B. 3G is like a Ford Mustang Shelby GT. It is the Ford Mustang (a car) but with better performance.

      If you eliminate the “Ford Mustang” aspect from any of it, you no longer have a car and can’t get from point A to B. That is Cellular data, you remove the cellular data, you can’t surf the web at any rate (slow or fast). If you disable 3G and not Cellular, then you can surf the web faster. If you disable Cellular and not 3G, well it’s the same think as disabling both, because Cellular data is what 3G sits on top of to go faster.

      Hope that makes sense.

  15. Bhagwan Singh

    I have just returned to Australia from Malaysia. Having received my iPhone 4 bill I was shocked to see my bill aud 100 + per day for data usage. I was surfing my email on my iPad. When I went to Vodafone today learnt that not putting off the switch on cellular data was the cause of incurring costs even though I did not read emails on my iPhone 4.
    I have found your explanations very clear. I have learnt something new.
    A big thank you.
    Bhagwan Singh
    Perth, Australia.

  16. StevenS

    Hi Oscar,

    I’m thinking of buying the new Ipad mini with cellular, but I noticed on apple’s site they make a distinction between ipad mini + cellular, whereas the ipad 2 + 3G.. Is cellular a synonym for 4G? Also the new Ipad with retina display is + cellular..


    • sorry for the late reply Steven. You are right about Cellular being synonymous with 4G, well in a way. It will be 3G, 4G or 4GLTE depending on the provider of cellular data that you are going to have (i.e. Verizon, Sprint or AT&T). I’m sure all iPads will be able to pick up the 3G on any of the provider. I’ll find out which providers are offering what and edit this comment. – Oscar

  17. Katie

    so just to confirm- i have a cell plan that doesn’t include data. if i don’t want to be charged for data usage, then i can turn my cellular data setting to ‘off’ and keep my 3g setting to ‘on’ (when i turned it off my phone had no service/wouldn’t send or receive texts), not be charged anything, right?

    • If you don’t have data as in “surf the web” data as part of your plan you should not have to disable anything.

      Also by disabling data, you also disable 3g since 3g just helps data go faster. But if web-data is not part of your plan, you should not worry and leave them enabled. It may help send your texts out quicker.

  18. Hi, How do I change your e-mail settings to only download when you open up your e-mail client? and I have fb app but I don’t go on it unless I am home – is there a way to change the settings on this so it doesn’t constantly download using up data ? Thank you for your help!

    • I don’t have an iPhone anymore, but if you go to Settings > Mail Contacts and Calendar > Fetch New Data, select to Fetch new data manually. You can also choose to disable push notifications.

      With regards to Facebook, once you log into your app, you can modify those settings within the app. I don’t think it can be done within the iPhone.

  19. hi oscar,
    i bought iphone5 from states actually i live here in the philippines.
    My iphone5 is a verizon and here at the philippines i used it in our network which is GLOBE, now my problem was, the “enable LTE” bar does not exist on my iphone5, only cellular date and 3g. please reply,

    • If you are talking about when you go to Settings > General > Cellular and the “Enable LTE” option disappearing, that that is an iOS issue, because that is part of the phone’s operating system. For that you should contact Apple.

      If you are talking about the 4G LTE signal being lost, it is likely that your provider does not have LTE in your area. Apparently it is something that GLOBE is rolling out with this year. This page will tell you if it is in your area: http://www.globe.com.ph/lte

  20. Simbonik Andrei

    I recently bought an iPhone 4. I understood the difference between Cellular Data and 3G. My question is: Will WIFI work if Cellular Data is off? Or do I have to go to settings and change it to On every time I want to use Wifi?
    Also, will the provider charge me/ use up my MB when I use Cellular data with WIFI?
    Thank you very much!

    • Wifi will work when cellular data is off.
      You’re cellular data will not be used up when you are on Wi Fi.

      I hope that answers your questions.

      • C

        Hi I have an I phone 5c , I turned off cellular data…what exactly does it turn off? Can I get emails, texts, Facebook?

      • Apologies for the late reply. Turning Cellular data off will not allow you to access the web or have your apps sync. You are likely able to still send or receive texts, but the send/receive times may be affected.

        So to answer your question, you can’t access email or get fb updates.


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