iPhone users hit with huge bills for … home WiFi

The problems keep on coming for Apple with its iPhone 3G. This time users are reporting that iPhone 3G doesn’t reliably use WiFi in preference to costly 3G/GPRS mobile data when it is available. And worse even when the iPhone is showing the WiFi connection icon on the screen it won’t necessarily draw data down via WiFi.

While the evidence is still sketchy and largely anecdotal numerous users on the Whirlpool discussion forums say they’ve been hit with big bills for data usage at times when they were at home connected to a WiFi network.

Further suggestive of a problem: some telcos are issuing immediate rebates to customers who are being hit with the unexpected fees after confirming they are iPhone users with home WiFi.

“Angryofmayfair” a member of the Whirlpool forumsm says ‘the problem is the iPhone is selecting GPRS or 3G in preference to WiFi without you knowing – you will see the normal Voda signal strength (1 bar if you are lucky!) and also the WiFi symbol and think that you are connected via WiFi whereas you may in fact be connected via Voda data rather than WiFi.”

“Not happy about this and to say it’s simply a matter of going into settings and changing the connection refs in there each time you come home and want to use wi-fi is not good enough it’s *far* from ‘simply this’ or ‘simply that’ it’s simply a total pain in the arse to have to find and use workarounds like this all the time” he wrote.

Angryofmayfair is far from alone. Another user “yello” said he’d received a bill for $374 worth of data — just 16MB — from Telstra even though he’d deliberately only enabled data services on the phone when he was at home on WiFi. “I tried to explain it to them but they said it’s possible that my phone got connected to Telstra’s Network and downloaded the Data which is a ridiculous excuse” he said.

Yet another user “Danpat” said he’d been issued a full refund for $88 worth of excess data usage by Vodafone. “The operator said “what phone are you using?”. I told her iPhone and she followed up with “do you use WiFi at home?”. I said yes and straight up she said “ok I’m going to credit you back $88”.

Apple is readying a big update for iPhone users known as 2.1 and due in September which customers are hoping will fix many of the bugs causing pain to customers at the moment. The last iPhone update 2.0.2 was released just two weeks after the first bug update 2.0.1 with unhelpful release notes that merely said ‘Bug Fixes’.

The 2.1 update can’t come soon enough for many users who are experiencing frequent issues with their iPhone 3Gs including dropped and failed calls speed that’s nowhere near what Apple claims and an inability to access the 3G at all despite living in their chosen telco’s 3G coverage areas. (Full report: User anger – iPhone 3G problems emerging.)

Anecdotally I bit the bullet and moved my iPhone from Optus to Telstra Next G last week. Since connecting I’ve had only one dropped call and no problem accessing data. Internet also seems much faster and more responsive. This compares to numerous dropped calls and frequent data drop outs on Optus network which I’d been using in the first month I had an iPhone 3G. While it’s probable that the iPhone 3G has bugs it’s just as likely that Optus has overloaded its network with 3G customers and it simply can’t cope. (Full report: Optus struggles with buggy 3G network).

Between Apple and the telcos we may never know the truth.