How I Fixed an iPhone that Couldn’t Get Mail Unless On WiFi

iOS 10 Mail icon

— How I Fixed an iPhone that Couldn’t Get Mail Unless On WiFi —

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Settings, Cellular, Use Cellular Data For. Scroll down and be sure Mail is turned ON.

I had an interesting problem last month. My friend Laura dropped her iPhone 6 and cracked the screen. She was going to get a new one, but decided to get the screen replaced and keep using it. Everything seemed fine after the repair.

But Then…

Laura called me to say that her email wasn’t working on her iPhone. She kept getting messages like this one:

iOS Cannot Send Mail message
Cannot Send Mail

I had her check the settings for Mail and they seemed fine. I tried setting up one of my spare iPhones with Laura’s email settings and I was able to send and receive from both of her accounts– obviously, if I could sign into her accounts, we knew the right settings. And since I was able to send and receive emails from both of her accounts, her email accounts were working fine.

I asked Laura to try sending me an email and to our surprise, it worked. She also received my reply. Problem over, or so we thought.

The next day, I got another call from Laura. “It’s not working,” she said. This time, I asked her where she was. “Florida,” she said (I was in California so I couldn’t fix her iPhone in person). She was on her way to a meeting. In the car. The funny things was, we both knew Mail worked perfectly yesterday.

I asked Laura, “Where were you yesterday, when your iPhone’s Mail worked?”

“In my hotel,” she said. “On their WiFi.” “Aha,” I thought. “Mail works over WiFi, but not on Verizon’s network. Something must be wrong with Cellular Data.” Maybe it was turned off. Laura checked (Settings/Cellular)– it was on.

Cellular Data in iOS-- ON
Cellular Data in iOS– ON

My next guess was that maybe there was something wrong with Laura’s account with Verizon. Maybe she was over her data limit. Laura checked into it– no problem.

Then I had a flash of inspiration. “Try going to web pages with Safari,” I said. My guess was that this would not work and that we would narrow our problem down to something wrong with the network connection (or maybe the antenna) when not on WiFi. But guess what? Safari worked just fine over cellular, in the car.

To recap: when on WiFi, Safari worked, and so did Mail. When on cellular, Safari worked, but Mail did not. We knew we had the right settings for Mail because the accounts worked fine when on WiFi. And we knew the cellular data antenna worked, because we could use Safari and load web pages when not on WiFi.

Laura went to a nearby Apple Store, told them her story, and they sold her a nice new iPhone 7, hoping it would solve her problem. She left the iPhone 7 in the box for me to set up upon her return to Los Angeles.

At this point, the old iPhone still didn’t work right. Actually, the only thing it had trouble with was Mail– the iPhone would not send nor receive email unless the iPhone was on WiFi. Everything else worked fine– Messages, phone calls, Weather, other apps.

The old iPhone was backed up to iCloud, so I set up the new one by restoring that backup to it. Restoring a backup to a new iPhone can be a very lengthy process, as this one was, but I had to wait it out to see if the new phone could get mail when not on WiFi. When the new iPhone was ready I tested sending and receiving email over WiFi, and it worked perfectly (as expected). Then I turned WiFi off and tried doing it over cellular– and it did NOT work.

Now I knew we had a software (or settings) problem, because the new iPhone (a clone of the old one, software-wise) had the exact symptom exhibited by the old iPhone. In effect I’d copied the problem to the new iPhone.

I looked at Cellular again. Yes, it was on. But this time, I scrolled down. This revealed a section of Cellular’s settings that I hadn’t looked at. It’s called “Use Cellular Data For:” and here’s how it looked.

iOS 10 Use Cellular Data For
iOS 10 Use Cellular Data For

Scrolling down a little more I saw this:

Cellular Data was OFF for Mail!
Cellular Data was OFF for Mail!

I was very, very surprised to find that “Use Cellular Data For” was turned OFF for Mail! So many apps were allowed, but not Mail. Naturally I flipped the switch for Mail to “On” and the problem went away.

Note: if, for some reason, you turn “Use Cellular Data For” to OFF for Mail, you’ll get a big warning telling you your mail won’t work right if you do that. Apparently, with Laura’s iPhone, the warning was not seen, or not understood– certainly not remembered.

As usual, solving this problem started with figuring out what the problem was. We started out thinking the problem involved the iPhone settings for Laura’s email accounts, but that wasn’t it. Then we thought cellular data might be off– but we saw it was on. Then we thought it might be something wrong with the cellular antenna, but we were able to use Safari over cellular, so that wasn’t it either. Then we thought there might be something wrong with Laura’s account with the cellular carrier– but that wasn’t it (Verizon said so, and again we knew we could use Safari, and that uses the same cellular data as the Mail).

Finally, having looked at the master switch for Cellular data a second time, we had the idea of scrolling down (on a Settings page that doesn’t look as if it has anything to scroll). I think it was just bad luck that the Cellular settings screen fit so perfectly on the iPhone 7– had it been cut off in the middle or something, we probably would have realized that there were more settings below and that we should scroll down to see them. Anyhow, once we saw the “Use Cellular Data For:” section, we zeroed in on the problem, and fixed it right away.

Sliding the switch to let Mail use cellular data was easy. The hard part was figuring out what the problem actually was. Sometimes it’s the other way around– easy problem to figure out, hard problem to correct. Here’s a story about a wrestling match I had with an iMac a few weeks ago (I won).

Bonus: here’s how to forward a voicemail message received on your iPhone.


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116 thoughts on “How I Fixed an iPhone that Couldn’t Get Mail Unless On WiFi

  1. I don’t know if you will ever see this, but THANK YOU! For almost a month, I’ve had the same problem. Tried everything. Was using the GMAIL app and just honestly don’t care for it. This solved my problem. Thank you!!

  2. Thank you Christian. It turned out i didn’t have Mail turned off to use cellular data but I had ‘Watch’ turned off. Turned watch back on and voila fixed!! I have been pulling my hair out for days over this. Thanks again

  3. Thank you so much. Had same problem for 6 weeks. Like most complicated problems the solution is way simpler that what we were looking for.

  4. OMG! thank you.. I was going crazy trying to fix this until I came across your solution. Genius!

  5. I had the same problem. Thank god for this post! I spent so many hours today researching, hahah.

  6. I have asked tech guys who do this for a living and my months-long problem just went away with a simple google search. Thank you!!!

  7. Christian,
    Thank you so much for such a great post, along with the pictures of the screen. It was very helpful and you have provided a wonderful service for many. Easy fix, if you know where to look.

  8. Fantastic advice . Exact same problem & i have now been able to get emails. Thank you so much for your help

  9. Another desperate user saved! Thanks so much for your skills, clear step-by-step explanation and generosity in sharing with the rest of the world.

  10. Christian!

    YOU MADE MY WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!

    I have been looking for this for months! I was going crazy!
    Thank you so so so much.

    Best!

  11. Thank you! I had the same problem today, googled “my phone can get email on wifi but not with cellular data” and your article came up!

  12. Thank you!!!! This fix was exactly what I was looking for, and it was driving me nuts. Buried down in the UI, never even thought to scroll down once…

    1. I had exactly the same experience– I never thought to scroll down because what I saw of “Cellular” settings fit perfectly on my iPhone’s screen– and of course there are no scroll bars on the iPhone to indicate that there’s something to scroll! Glad I could help you.

  13. You are brilliant! our dept IT person couldn’t fix the problem. Why didn’t I think to google the problem sooner. Gah! THANK YOU!!

  14. Thank you for doing all the hard work for us! I am part of the growing populace that troubleshoot with the “Google/Youtube first, use brain second” mantra. Nice to see folks out there still doing it the old fashioned way! Thanks a million. Fixed my co-workers phone in just a couple of clicks. Now he thinks I am a sorcerer or something.

  15. Thank you thank you thank you! I went to the Apple store, but they couldn’t help!!!, but reading this solved this old problem i 5 minuts (I should have googled before !)
    Greetings Frank

  16. Hi! I work tech care and had a customer with this same issue, and it resolved it perfectly, thank you!

  17. Add me to the list. I’ve had this problem since getting my phone in Dec. I feel a bit stupid for not going to the store sooner but i just dealt with it. Thank you!

  18. Add me to the list. I’ve had this problem since getting my phone in Dec. I feel a bit stupid for not going to the store sooner but i just dealt with it. Thank you!

  19. My problem is that mail, Gmail, Hangouts doesn’t even show up in the list as an option to turn off or on cellular data used for.

  20. Same problem, similar solution. I checked my settings, and Mail was on. Turned it off and on again. Sorted

  21. Thanks for the help, didn’t know what to do….

    The most surprising part of the story is when your friend Laura goes to the Apple Store and instead of telling her how to solve the problem, the sell her a brand new iPhone 7…. seriously?

  22. Two years and several apple stores later I had completely given up. Thank you SO much for this information, it immediately fixed the problem. The biggest problem with taking it to an Apple Store was they all have wifi so it was always working fine when I brought it to them 😡– Finally!!

    1. That part about all of the Apple Stores having WiFi, so the phone always worked– it would be funny, except for all the trouble. Glad you have it working now! Tell a friend.

  23. Thank you so much! I was not able to read work emails and was getting desperate!

    One thought on how the switch got turned off — my family has a very limited data plan, and I vaguely remember a few years ago scrolling through the cellular data settings and turning off data for apps that I rarely use but didn’t want to/was unable to completely delete. At that time, I wasn’t using the Mail app for work, so when I started a new job recently and thus started using the Mail app, I had forgotten about changing my settings so long ago until I read this post.

      1. Thank you so much !!!! I have had this problem for over a year and finally took it to a Bell store as I have Bell email. They spent over an hour trying to fix this to no avail. I googled the problem and it was fixed in two minutes after I read your solution.

  24. This happened last week to 4 of my firm’s Iphone users, no warning, nothing, just stopped. I did check that setting and the mail was ON. We still have not resolved the issue and multiple IT people cannot solve it. I have deleted accounts, reset network settings, added account back on to no avail. My personal Samsung has had no problem and never lost exchange, it’s only the Iphone peeps. We thought it might be a certificate problem and even changed that, still doesn’t work. I can sometimes bring up our mail OWA setting on their Safari and think the problem is solved, go to add the account and no dice, or it adds but won’t hold. Everyone has Verizon as the carrier, no changed made to our Exchange . . . some simple setting has flummoxed the whole thing and I have lost days of work, frustrated much, yes!

      1. Yep, when Wi-Fi on everything catches up, on cellular, notta. Seems to be am issue with our go daddy certificate, but go daddy has verified it. Also used other cell providers like sprint and there was no problem, instant over cellular. It seems to be a Verizon issue but customer service just says to install outlook app. Ps, my Samsung has had no issues which is also weird if it’s a certificate issue.

        1. Very interesting and it sounds as if you’ve narrowed it down to Verizon not connecting properly to GoDaddy’s server. You’re able to browse websites when on Verizon, yes?

          1. Yes, we can browse websites, but does it make sense that it is a certificate problem when my Samsung connects through Verizon cellular and the IPhones won’t? That is my stumbling block on this . . .

          2. Hmmm. That’s hard to make sense of. One difference is you’re not using Apple’s Mail app on the Samsung. When you set up the accounts on the iPhones, do you get any sort of verification (check marks) showing that it’s all OK? I don’t doubt that you know the right settings. I just wonder whether it gets verified.

            I would try deleting the account from the iPhone, TURNING OFF WiFi on the iPhone, then adding the account again, so the whole thing has to get verified over Verizon’s service. Let’s see what happens.

          3. Yes, I get the verification checked off – BUT ONLY when I do it through WiFi – it won’t do it through cellular when WiFi is off. I have multiple times on different Iphones with different versions completely deleted accounts, reset network settings, turned back on, left wifi off and added exchange account back on – won’t connect, turn on wifi and it verifies and connects. So, great as long as my attorneys are somewhere wifi is available, but when they are on the road, meeting at a courthouse, meeting witnesses at a scene, they cannot communicate via email with no wifi. It’s becoming a huge problem! All out of the blue last week (while I was on vacation, of course!).

          4. That’s not good news but it’s what I was expecting. If you can get the account to verify when setting up while on cellular, you’re in business. Wild guess: turn SSL off?

  25. I have a similar problem except my personal yahoo and gmail works on both wifi and cellular but my exchange only works on wifi. Any help?

    1. I think this might be a certificate problem. Obviously the certificate isn’t the whole problem, because it works over WiFi. But something about the certificate/cellular combination could be it. Who hosts your email, and who is the cell phone service provider? Would be interesting if it’s GoDaddy and Verizon (see below).

      1. Our latest thought and we are getting ready to implement it now is that with the IOS update to Iphones last week and Verizon’s general weirdness and updates lately, that the Iphone requires a newer encryption protocol that the Androids do not. We do not have the newer encryption protocol on our server, so we are getting ready to load that on and then we will see. It makes sense as far as how our Android phones were fine and the Iphones were not. I’ll let you know how it goes!

          1. While adding the newer encryption protocol file on the server, we noticed the IP 6 address was filled in and it should not be – – it was either corrupted by something or something had forced an IP address in, hard to say. Anyway between deleting that and the file update I am happy to say everything is working. A week+ of frustration and loss of productivity but what can you say, it’s an art, not a science.

  26. thank you! was just about to go on a camping trip and was flipping out. you have checked off a huge box on my to do list and peace of mind.

    1. That’s so great! I am really glad to hear that I helped you out. Whenever I run into something really weird and challenging I try to write it up so the next person doesn’t have to struggle as I did… Looks as if I did something good with this article!

  27. Same here, ipad of a co-worker, worked fine for 6 weeks , until the error.
    Removing and reinstall account, it did accept the Exchange account settings, and even the tree with maps showed up, but no mails. Only the error”The Connection to the Server Failed”.
    On my test ipad (both on IOS 10.3.2) switching off the mail in mobile data led to warnings and errors in the mail app. On his device it did not.
    For the record, our mail settings are pushed with Sophos MDM.

      1. I gave AT&T a call first… to find out that they never added the data plan to my line. Now it works outside of wi-fi range. Will take the phone with me to work to test it some more…

  28. You legend – same problem here, was completely stumped. This was exactly the problem.

    FWIW – genuinely don’t think I switched this off myself, there might be a bug that sets this to off incorrectly.

    1. I think you’re right. I don’t think anyone is going to the Cellular Data section and switching it off for Mail. I can see deliberately switching it off completely, but not just for Mail. It would be hard to do by accident, due to the control itself being way down the list of apps with a cellular data on-off switch.

  29. So great to find this post, there don’t seem to be many / any other articles covering this.
    Unfortunately me and my colleagues are facing the same problem as a few above, where our iPhones all started rejecting Mail over WiFi a few weeks ago. Definitely isn’t the Mobile Data switch issue – seems to be something to do with a certificate?

    The annoying thing is, my email hosting service told me it wasn’t their issue so to speak to the mobile service provider, and my mobile service provider said it wasn’t their issue and to speak to the email hosting service! 😡

    Unfortunately I’m on a VirginMobile plan in Australia, but sounds like the same issue. Any help is MUCH appreciated, it’s not too often a problem like this completely stumps me.

    1. I can’t be sure of this but it might be a security patch that needs to be applied to an Exchange server. See the comments below– we had one person who deleted her email account from the iPhone, set it up again, and it would verify if she was on WiFi, but not if she was on cellular. She fortunately was able to get the server people to apply the latest MS Exchange patch, and the problem went away.

  30. This was so helpful. I had done everything on your list repeatedly since April… in addition to checking IMAP setting on gmail account via email. Today after reading your article, I realized that when I switched Cellular Data back on after international travel, and made sure GMAIL was on too (the Google app in the G part of the list of course), I neglected to make sure MAIL was on as well (meaning the native Apple app in the M part of the list). So many little details, so many little settings to miss. Thank you thank you thank you. I feel like I have one of my favorite arrows newly sharp and back in the quiver.

  31. THANKS!! I have been wondering too! I have to wonder if some software update turned it off. I don’t remember doing it. It had worked fine for years and then just stopped!!

    1. You’re welcome! I don’t think ANYONE remembers turning it off. Something must be triggering that– an update, maybe some sort of crash. Maybe it’s on purpose– when running out of battery? When running out of data? I would love to know what does it. At least we know how to fix it.

  32. so very very helpful!!!! My suggestion however would be to just include bullet points of the solution eg settings>cellular/mobile>use mobile data for>mail (slide on) just for brevity.

    Again very helpful!

  33. Thank you so much! I went into my phone store today and they couldn’t find anything wrong with my phone! So they are certainly not experts!! Thank you again!

  34. I CANNOT tell you thank you enough for posting this! I did the same thing, got a new phone and nothing changed. I’ve uninstalled and reinstalled my email so many times. Google solutions and nothing. Finally o found this article. Thank you thank you thank you! I’ve been struggling with this for over a year 😳

  35. Wow! Thank you so much. This has been bugging me for months. Such a simple fix. I guess sometimes we overlook the simple settings! Thanks again.

  36. Thank you!! I visited multiple sites before I came across this one, and your solution was the one that worked!

  37. I have been fighting this exact problem and tried pretty much everything you described EXCEPT I did not know about the Use Data For settings. That worked! This article was so helpful, thank you for sharing what you found!

  38. Thank you so much! I had been struggling with this for a while, trying to figure out why it stopped working all of a sudden.

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