How To: Turn on WiFi While the iPhone 3G/EDGE Radio is Off

Well I'm sure by now you have heard the latest Smarthphone Experts Roundtable Podcast! (If you haven't had a chance to listen you better get on it, great podcast!)

You may have heard our very own fearless leader, Dieter, chime in on one thing that he hates about iPhone 3G, the fact that you can not turn on Wi-Fi while the radio is off (in Airplane Mode). Or so Dieter thought. You can indeed turn Wi-Fi on while the radio is off! And doing so is a snap!

First go into your Settings - Turn on Airplane Mode - and then turn your Wi-Fi connection on.

Now you can enjoy browsing the internet, checking emails, or anything else data related all without the radio on!

[Ed: Thanks also to Stephen Sizemore for bringing this up in the podcast comments! Let us know how that works for you, b'okay boss?]

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How To: Turn on WiFi While the iPhone 3G/EDGE Radio is Off


Neat! I have noticed an annoying feature linked to airplane mode. I've got in the habit of turning it on when syncing in case a call interrupts the backup process. When I turn it back on, wifi is always turned off even if it was on before I selected airplane mode. Yes, it's only minor, but it's still annoying.

Sorry guys, this is a new feature? Was the first thing I found out after I got the iPhone. Ok, second. But ... tried that out very early and works ever since. I should have sold that knowledge earlier, now that it's out .. ;-)

I discovered this feature early on as well but have never tried it on an airplane?
Has anyone tried surfing on wifi while in airplane mode during an actual flight? Does it work okay?

Nobody said anything about this being a new feature. I'm guessing some of you have not listened to the latest podcast. We just wanted to clear the air... ;)

Jokes aside, lots of new people get iPhones every day, so while we cranky old codgers think we know it all (which we don't), there's plenty of other people fresh to the platform who might benefit from any given how-to.
Thanks for posting this one!

@Daniel, maybe everyone out there is not a "expert" like you... Like Rene said, there are a ton of people out there who may have just picked up a iPhone. Do you think just because you may know something about the phone we should just skip out on even the smallest of tip? Does not make much sense...

What is the point of having wifi on, and thereby radiating energy, in an aircraft or hospital environment, where EMI is a concern?

@bob daye: I work in the basement. If I leave airplane mode off, my phone's battery will drain quickly as it attempts to connect to the GSM network (I have a gen 1 phone) but cannot. That requires a lot of radio power.
Turning wi-fi on with the phone radio off is better, since the wi-fi radio shuts off after 30 minutes if nothing uses it. Plus, I don't have to worry about someone calling me and making a racket if my phone happens to get a signal because the stars aligned right.

Sorry, I don't see this as news, even for a newbie. When I saw the title, I thought there must be something more to this than the title. Some things should just be learned by experience and a little thinking.

Thanks guys. Valid points.
I recently went to Hawaii on United and they still didn't have Wi-Fi. Weird!
Anyone know if will have the iphone App?

thanks for the tip. this will solve my syncing problem. your post will help many iphone converts some tricks without reading the user guide. PLS. ignore all the experts gsrbage comments regarding your post.

I wasn't sure if you were referring to my post. For the record, I think it was a good post because as Rene said, there's always that one newbie who needs a lil more help than the rest of us. If my earlier post seemed abrupt (plus, I didn't mean to put a questopn mark at the end of my first sentence) it's only cuz I'm typing quickly from work right now.

beside these expert wannabe's are all full of craft pretending they knew everything yet they cry like a baby when ????... LOL. Guess these are the jailbreakers. Put them to jail.....

Oh, and for all the people saying that this isn't news -- we also do how tos and you'd be surprised to hear how appreciative people are for the simple stuff that we often assume everybody already knows. The Airplane Mode/ WiFi trick is a perfect example of that.
Tell you what, we'll start putting something like "iPhone 101" in the title of these quick little how-to posts to clarify that we don't think we're doing anything earth-shattering with them -- just exposing nice little tips for people who may not know about them.

please do it. we want to learn more. have no time to read and experiment cause im working double job. this will help us busy peoples. forget those homeless expert.

yes daniel, i am a system analyst and i run my own consulting firm maintaining legal system softwares. your a spoiled brat. i believe your mama has to spunk you for not being successful with your career. wake up.

with a bachelors and master degree in computer science at UCLA, just dont have time to play with this gadget yet. I will soon as i have my vacation.

Don't feed the troll folks.
Thanks for the tip Jeremy, I was actually wondering the other day if this was possible, just hadn't tried it out yet.
Also, @Tunnelrunner this would come in handy if you were on any of the new Virgin Americas flights that will offer in flight WiFi. I haven't flown them yet, but will the first chance I get.

This is one more example as to how Apple's overly simplistic approach makes figuring out how to do things much harder than they should be (read: non-intuitive.)
However, I too discovered how to do this within the first 5 minutes of using the device. I use it in airplane mode w/ WiFi on almost daily.
Sometimes I shut the phone off at night (airplane mode) so I won't get calls/SMS, but I leave wifi on. Keep it on the charger and it will get push mail all night long over wifi without the phone radio being on.
Dieter also complains (on a separate blog post) that you can't stream pod casts over 10MB over Edge/3G. But you can. You can't download them, but you can stream them and play them in the background.

i am back from my break guys. keep posting your comments i am picking a lot of goodies on it. very helpful. thanks.

I know people on here say this feature has been around since day 1, but I distinctly remember my original 2G iPhone telling me I had to turn airplane mode off when I tried to turn wifi on while in airplane mode.

Good point in the intuitiveness. There's a ton of little tricks thrown into the iPhone that don't get attention. Using 2 fingers to scroll inside a text box took me a good 30 min to figure out the first time. This post was news to me, when I switch on airplane mode and see the wifi under it turn off I guess I just accepted that it would stay off. I never use airplane mode for more than resetting my connection so I didn't have a reason to play around with it. Keep the tips coming! Here's one for those who don't want to read them: tap "skip to comments", scoll up a little and tap on the next article.

@TaylorH: How? When I try to do it over Safari, I can never tell when it's going ot up and shut down int he background

How would we know we can screenshot by pressing sleep + home? Crowd knowledge. Apple makes Soviet Russia seem chatty. That's why I love me the blogs.
@Dieter: We discussed this on iPhone Live! last week. In the iTunes App, you hit the title of the podcast instead of the download button, and it begins to stream. (Or were you asking something else?)
Why AT&T is okay with 10+MB streaming rather than downloading is a mystery to me!

What I'd like to see is if I have a WIFI connection, the phone automatically switches to Edge to ease the drain on battery and give me the better connection quality. If I'm on WIFI, don't need the high speed of 3G.
I'd also love to set short cuts to items in Settings so I don't have to drill down so far to turn 3G on and off!

Thanks for the tip. I was JUST wondering about that very thing since I am taking my iPhone on deployment and won't be needing the phone part for awhile.
Lots of good tips in the comments on this blog. Now if apple would only fix BT,MMS, and diskmode!

@Carl I've had my current 2G iPhone since day 1 and I have a vague memory of this being an issue originally as well. Maybe it came in a software update?

I'm currently working three floors underground, where we have wifi but obviously no cell service. I thought the wifi would kill my battery life, but I've found that after 14+ hours a day underground, my phone is less drained than when I have 3G on and no wifi. Just thought it was interesting.

@ all the haters of this post:
I didn't know. I'm a heavy user, know a lot about the iPhone. I wasn't aware you could do this. I'm appreciative. If you didn't like the post, go read another iPhone blog. Not like this is the only one on the internet. Sheesh.

Perhaps others can clear up something: is it not that popular in the very general, broad iPhone (esp. 3G) community not to jailbreak ones phone?
The reason I ask is that I didn't necessarily know the combination of toggles that Apple provides in order to achieve what the author has mentioned. I didn't know because it is exceedingly rare that I go into the Settings area to access that sort of thing as I've used Bossprefs and now sbSettings where 3G, Edge, Wifi and so on can be turned on or off as I see fit.
I've just sort of assumed that most iPhone owners have done a jailbreak on their device, certainly readers of a site like this ...but is that not the case? I honestly am curious as to the answer. If there are people here who haven't jailbroken their iPhone I don't really care about the reason, I am sure it is valid for them no matter what it is, but I just thought that almost everyone did it.

This is just stupid!
Tell me how to configure my iPhone so it can make me a cup of (un-jailbroken) Coffee in the morning instead. THAT whould be something to write about.

mines jailbroken. And same as Ethan, I'm a heavy user and didn't notice this. Of course I've only been in a plane twice in my life and the closest I get to "underground" is parking garages and 8 ft below sea level (new Orleans...and I know it wouldn't mess with signal, just humor Daniel)

do u pay for this?? like will it be charged on ur phone bill cause i know when i checked my data usage on my iphone 3g it said 1 mb recieved + sent!!! and i don't have a data plan so i'm sorta screwed over if this is data!!! so is it gonna count as wifi or not and everytime i've gone on the internet i've turned on airplane mode!! so plz someone help me!!! if u have an answer send me an email at

just wanted to say thanks for posting this. despite all the peeps who think this was completely obvious, i've never had the need to figure out how to do this until today. it was great just to google it up and have instructions in 20 seconds. and i've had the iphone since Day 1, and still glad you posted.

are you sure this works?? tried turning on airplane mode and then on the wifi. however, when browsing it says need internet connection. pls help.

Very handy advice, thanks much; I'm going to the UK soon and wanted to turn off the phone capabilities and just use Wi-Fi (because AT&T charges an insane amount of roaming fees for data and calls in the UK). I wasn't sure how to do it, and I assumed that airplane mode turned off all the radios (because that's what you're supposed to do... on airplanes... mostly, at least).
Anyway, thanks for telling me how to do it!
And @yoyoyo, I believe that you will not be charged for data when only using wifi, but I could be wrong.

I knew about this option and it's very good because if you have your radio on and in some moment your WiFi brokes during surfing the iPhone connects automaticly to your carriers network internet and that can be very expencive in my opinion...

And yes...I'm not sure that your carrier can charge your WiFi connection if Radio is would be logical becouse you end all your relations to carrier when you turn on airplane mode...I hope....:D

Got it in one! Glad I Googled! I live in a rural area and my aluminum siding makes a signal nonexistant - not to mention draining my battery what with all of the trying to establish a signal.

If you want to prevent you iPhone from connecting through your carrier, you can also switch off the option "cellular data network". That way, you'll keep the phone-function on, but the iPhone will not try to establish an internet-connection over the phone line when there's no wifi available. The setting is at Settings / General / Network.

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