How to Avoid Apple iPhone, iPad 3G Overages

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It didn't take long for mobile management vendors to start scaring businesses about potentially huge overage charges that employees could incur now that AT&T and other carriers have stopped offering unlimited 3G data plans to new customers. But chances are that most organizations don't need to buy a pricey mobile management tool to monitor their 3G usage.

The iPhone and iPad both come with tools that do much of the work for you. Before you panic and buy a mobile management tool you don't need, try these options first.

[ Find out how to say yes to (almost) any smartphone in your business with InfoWorld's guide. | Learn what the Apple iPhone Configuration Utility can do for you. ]

1. Turn Wi-Fi on. The iPhone and iPad automatically switch from 3G to Wi-Fi when a known Wi-Fi access point is in range. For some time now, the iOS (the new name for the iPhone OS) has managed the Wi-Fi radio very intelligently, so it doesn't burn through your battery life looking for hotspots or when in range of a Wi-Fi access point. That means you can leave Wi-Fi on and forget it; do so in the Settings app on your device.

2. Use your free Wi-Fi when traveling. Also, if you're at AT&T customer, you get free access to AT&T's Wi-Fi hotspot network in the United States, which includes many Starbucks and McDonald's locations. As of iPhone OS 3.0, you don't even need to log in; the network recognzies iPhones and logs them in automatically. Meanwhile, other carriers include Wi-Fi service in their home countries as well as part of the iPhone subscription plan.

And you can get free Wi-Fi at many locations, including the Phoenix, San Diego, and Seattle airports; at Apple Stores; and in many New York City parks, just to name a few. Scan the areas where you travel and connect to these; your iPhone and iPad will reconnect automatically the next time you're in range. (To disable the feature, tap the triangle icon to the right of the network name, then tap the Forget This Network button in the network details pane that appears.) Note that if you use an Android smartphone or a BlackBerry, they can also be set to autoconnect to known Wi-Fi networks.

Just watch out for those phishing Wi-Fi devices meant to steal your credentials (usually labeled "Free Public WiFi"); the iPhone doesn't alert you to them as the Mac OS does with a special icon. If you go to the network details pane, you'll see that the "access point" has no Internet connection and is either a phishing device or an overloaded or improperly configured Wi-Fi device because its IP address begins with 169.

3. Secure your connections. If security is an issue, configure the iPhone or iPad accordingly. The devices support VPNs (set them up in the Settings app), so traveling employees using public hotspots can safely connect. Likewise, be sure to turn on SSL at your mail server, and if using Microsoft Exchange or corporate Gmail, set up ActiveSync security policies such as remote wipe and on-device encryption.

You can also restrict users to specific Wi-Fi networks, using the free iPhone Configuration Utility. Its Wi-Fi pane provides a ton of controls over required protocols, authentication, and the like. A tip: You can set multiple approved Wi-Fi access points; just click the plus (+) icon in the upper right of the pane to add a new network. You can distribute the configuration profiles via email or a Web page.

4. Understand the data usage tiers. AT&T's new data pricing no longer has an unlimited usage option, but that doesn't mean you'll be paying unrestricted amounts by the megabyte or even kilobyte once those limits are exceeded, as is the case with voice minutes. For example, if your iPhone has the $25-per-month 2GB data plan and you exceed 2GB of usage, you are charged $25 for an additional 1GB. That's not trivial, but it's also not a bank-breaker.

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