Why do large apps require wifi to download and update, when wifi is slower?

Specifically with regards to iOS apps. Some apps over a certain size will not download over the cellular connection. In my case I have AT&T in an area with LTE coverage. Wifi seems to me to be a lot slower and less reliable than the LTE connection. Whether it’s the wifi in my own home, someone else’s home, a free public wifi such as at McDonald’s, paid wifi at a hotel, or the guest wifi at various places (hospitals and nursing homes are the ones I have tried) the wifi is always slower. Not just a little slower but a lot slower.

Today, for example, I am updating two apps on my iPad. One is a large game (Final Fantasy VII), the other is the Facebook messenger app. When I updated the messenger app on my phone with the LTE connection it took a few seconds. Due to the Final Fantasy app requiring wifi to update, I connected to a wifi network. The messenger app finally finished updating after about 30 minutes. Who knows how long till the other app finishes updating.

Why would Apple require a wifi network when LTE is so much better? I’m not sure if this is the best forum for this, please move as appropriate.

Because people generally have cell phone plans with 1 to 10 Gbytes of data per month while the wifi connections generally do not charge per amount of data or if they do the charge is much much less than what you pay for with a cell phone. Customers get mad if they use up all their data downloading apps.

Does iOS not allow you to toggle off that requirement?

I suspect that your experience with the relative speed between LTE and wi-fi is abnormal. For example, I tend to get 10Mb on LTE and around 20 on home wi-fi, and I’d get double that on wi-fi if I’d get around to upgrading to a DOCSIS 3 cable modem. Also, most folks (Americans at least) probably get something like 3 GB from their wireless carrier per month, and either 250 GB or unlimited from their wi-fi.

That said, I have a setting on my iPhone to enable cellular data (LTE) on a per-app basis. Do you have this turned off for App Store?

Your wifi speed is almost entirely due to what you are paying for from your ISP. At home I get 110Mbps over wifi and about 20Mbps over LTE. If I used the AT&T u-verse that is available in my area my wifi would be 3 to 18Mbps depending on what I paid.

In the US, that requirement is usually imposed by the carrier, and the OS is just reflecting it.

Interesting. Verizon apparently allows that requirement to be shut off, on a per-app basis, at least with an Android phone.

Just because the one app downloaded more quickly over LTE than the other did over wifi doesn’t prove anything. How big were the two updates? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the update for the game was larger than the entire messaging app. It’s art resources that really eat up the bytes, and a game will have tons of those, while a messaging app will have almost none.

If I have a huge update or app I just download through iTunes on my PC, which can* be faster.

  • I say it can be faster because the average 802.11N WiFi connection is faster than your typical internet connection so isn’t really a bottleneck.

I don’t have Verizon, but is that setting for downloading the app itself, or just for data transfers the app does as part of its functioning? The latter aren’t usually limited on any platform, although there are usually settings to lock a given “data hog” app out of cellular data.

Why are there different rules for what amounts to the same basic function? Couldn’t tell ya.

Are you saying that the carrier can require the user to only download updates via wifi? This seems absurd to me. Essentially they would be saying, “here is your LTE connection you are paying for, but you can’t use it to download big updates and stuff. Go use some other provider for that.”

There are plenty of people who don’t actually have home broadband of any kind and rely on their phone for all their internet usage.

Online speed tests can tell for sure.

I’m with the OP. Public WiFi is universally slow. I rarely see more than 10 Mb/s, and in crowded places like airports it’s even worse. Obviously WiFi doesn’t have to be slow, but in practice, public WiFi providers don’t have much reason to have more than a very basic internet connection.

In comparison, I easily get 30-40 Mb/s over LTE, and I have an unlimited plan so I don’t care about data caps. And yet AT&T still blocks large apps from downloading over LTE. There is a setting which seems to affect some apps but is not universal. I imagine that this is an easy way for AT&T to reduce load on their cell towers, even though it infuriates me since I pay extra for an unlimited connection.

Yes, that’s precisely what they do. I believe that one can bypass the limits with a rooted/unlocked phone, but that comes with all of the other attendant risks.

They also require paying extra for the tethering feature, even though you’re still using the same data pipe that you ostensibly paid for.

According to this discussion in the Apple forums, the limit is set by the App store:

Why can’t I download apps over 100mb on 3G?

The OP didn’t limit his comments to public wi-fi. His claim is that all wi-fi is slower than his LTE, which may certainly be true in his experience, but I continue to assert that that is unusual, or if not unusual, at least less common than the other way around (wrt private wi-fi networks.)

Wow, that is outrageous. You make a good point in that it’s kind of along the same lines as not allowing tethering. But what about the segment of the population that I mentioned, those who don’t even have wifi at home? They can never get updates? or they have to pay AT&T extra for this privilege of keeping their phone software up to date? :confused:

I have a particularly fast connection at home. 100+ Mb/s internet and a recent 802.11n router. But I know lots of people with fairly basic 10-15 Mb/s connections, and these will all be slower than a solid LTE connection. The average home internet speed in the US is only 12 Mb/s.

So yes, while it would be unusual for WiFi to be slower than LTE under all conditions, it would not be unusual or even uncommon for it to be true for typical conditions for a particular user.

They have to go to Starbucks or wherever. To their credit, AT&T does themselves provide public WiFi hotspots that are free for their customers. But these are unlikely to be available at home.

I can see a reason to simply not let people update large apps over the cell network, even though some users might have a legitimate desire to do so. Users trying to make something work are going to go trying things. And if you put in a way for them to shoot themselves in the foot, a few of them are going to fire.

If allowing users to update huge apps over the cell network (even if you default it off) results in enough users who didn’t know what they were doing, turn that ability on, then end up with huge cell phone bills as a result, you’re going to end up with bad PR and additional support costs. Better to just not let them do so.

This sort of thing is totally in line with Apple’s philosophy of simply not letting users do things that Apple thinks are likely not to go well. You can see this over and over in decisions they made. Mice with one button because multiple buttons really confuse new users. No multitasking (and now very limited multitasking) on iOS because unsophisticated users will tend to just drain the hell out of their batteries if you let them. This is a very divisive philosophy, since power users are often pissed that they can’t do what they want.

I have to imagine that the percentage of iPhone owners who have no regular access to Wifi is quite small.

Confusing matters is the “WiFi Assist” feature that the iOS now has, which switches you over to cellular data when WiFi is “poor” (however that is determined). If Apple really doesn’t want people wasting their data plans why implement such a thing? Especially since it snuck in on a lot of people and did cause some folks to really get burnt with data charges.

I had trouble finding one source that had the percentage numbers for both US home broadband and smartphone ownership, but here’s this at least:

“19% of Americans rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services and information and for staying connected to the world around them — either because they lack broadband at home, or because they have few options for online access other than their cell phone.”

19% of the US is a minority I guess, but I don’t know if I would call it insignificant or “quite small”. I also don’t know if this number will trend up or down in the future. I do know a good handful of people personally who for years now have pretty much relied on their smartphone for all their internet usage without the need for home broadband. With mobile broadband speeds already quite fast and always getting faster, and personal devices becoming more powerful (and therefore more likely to be replacing home computers for casual users), I would guess that it’s quite possible that there will be more and more people who can make do with their smartphone only and not need to pay for home broadband on top of that.

In fact, I imagine there are a fair number of us now, who, if we did the numbers, could probably pay extra for the tethering option and either unlimited or a high-ish amount of monthly data allowance and ditch our cable internet altogether, and still come out ahead in terms of fees, with little noticeable loss in functionality.