By Dan Moren
February 5, 2015 8:00 AM PT
Wish List: Network prioritization on iOS
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
Networking: boring, right? Wrong. Networks are our lifelines these days—how else can we keep up-to-date on Twitter, stream our music and TV, and, most importantly, see what our friends scored in Crossy Road?
So it’s frustrating when you can’t get connected—especially when it’s because your device has decided to join the wrong network. I’ve run into this, in particular, with my ISP, Comcast, which provides a broad network of Wi-Fi hotspots that are free with my cable Internet subscription.
All well and good, but those networks tend to be a little slow—not just in terms of their overall throughput, but in the time it takes between joining the network to actually being able to get data on it. I don’t know what the deal is, whether the network just takes a while to authenticate my devices as valid clients or what, but when my phone decides to hop on the network as I’m walking around town, my connection invariably comes to a sudden halt.
Even more annoying, there are some places I go—coffee shops, for example—that have access to Comcast’s hotspots but also have Wi-Fi of their own, and my iOS devices always seem to want to jump on the Comcast network. I even had this happen in my home recently, to my dismay.1
So, it’d be great to be able to tell my iPhone which networks it should try to join first when there are several available. You can already do this pretty easily on OS X by dragging the order of Wi-Fi networks under Advanced in the Network preference pane.
I’ve heard some suggestion that if you’re using iCloud the network prioritization from your Mac will actually sync to your iOS devices, but if that is true, I’ve certainly never been able to get it to work.
This may seem like a little thing, and I doubt it’s something that Apple will ever put high on its list of priorities. For most people, the way it works right now is probably fine. But for those of us who end up frequently jumping between networks on our mobile devices, it would definitely be helpful to have a little more control.
Update: Reader Thom Rosario reminds me that you can also define preferred networks via the Apple Configurator (née iPhone Configuration Utility), though it’s not exactly the most user-friendly process.
- Admittedly, my iPhone didn’t seem to be finding my home network and so apparently fell back to the Comcast Wi-Fi. So that may be a separate problem. ↩
- This interface needs some love too. You can’t search the list, and it’d be great to be able to say “show me networks I haven’t used in the last three months, year, etc.” As it is, I have way too many networks in there that will never exist again, but why the hell would I spend the time weeding them out? ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]
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