Why Does AT&T Automatically Turn on Cellular Data on the iPad Without Telling You? (Updated)

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iPad Cellular Data

Update: It looks like Verizon users are seeing the same behavior on the iPad. So this appears to be an iOS issue, rather than a carrier-specific problem. I have submitted a bug report on this to Apple.

Here’s a little feature / bug I’ve just noticed on my new iPad with AT&T 4G cellular data capability:

Every time you go into Settings > Cellular Data and choose to ‘View Account’, even if you cancel out of logging in and actually viewing account details, cellular data is then turned on – without any sort of popup or notification to let you know it’s on. This happens even while you have a perfectly good WiFi connection, so it’s not as if cellular data is required just to connect to AT&T’s servers.

I’ve tested this out several times now and also asked a friend with an iPad 2 to try it, and he gets the same results. On the new iPad LTE is also enabled when this happens. Just to be clear, both the Cellular Data and Enable LTE fields show as On on the Settings page when this occurs – but it took me a long while to notice that as I don’t even think about those fields, or looking at them, when I have not chosen to turn cellular data on or off. It seems to me this could easily lead to unwanted usage of cellular data for many users.

This initially seemed like a little bug to me. It doesn’t seem right for cellular data to be turned on automatically without a little alert or popup to let you know it’s been turned on in order to view your account – but I spoke to AT&T technical support and they state that this is ‘just how it works’. They say that a cellular data connection is required in order to view your account details. I asked why the connection isn’t turned back off when you’re finished viewing your account – and again the response was that ‘this is just how it works’.

Here’s how I think this should work:

— If a cellular connection is genuinely required, to communicate with the iPad’s SIM card or for whatever reason, then as soon as you tap View Account there should be a popup message making it clear that this is happening and suggesting that you could instead choose to view details on a desktop browser if you prefer, or something along those lines.

— The cellular data connection should be turned back off when you finish viewing your account details. If it can be turned on automatically just for this purpose, why not turn it back off?

— If it cannot be turned back off, then again a warning message of some kind should be given when the user is finished viewing the account – otherwise many users may never notice that cellular data has been turned on and may rack up usage time they never intended to.

I think AT&T needs to fix this. What do you all think? Is it OK for cellular data to be turned on automatically without telling you?

I’m also curious about whether this works the same way on iPads using Verizon and other carriers.


Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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5 thoughts on “Why Does AT&T Automatically Turn on Cellular Data on the iPad Without Telling You? (Updated)”

  1. AT&T has got it wrong. When you don’t have an account everything is done over wifi and then they activate LTE.

  2. It works the same way with Verizon, and there should be a lawsuit to get compensated for unintended data usage.

  3. That is the way it worked on my iPad 1with 3G and still does. My iPad 3 on Verizon is the same way.

  4. On my 2nd generation iPad the GPS chip is embedded in the cellular modem chip. If I want or need GPS accuracy I must turn on the cellular data feature (to turn on the chip).
    Perhaps this is a reason for automatically turning it on?

  5. I keep my cellular data on all of the time, my iPhone and iPad go to wifi when they pickup a connection. I have unlimited service for both so I can’t be charged for more service.

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