If you’re on a limited mobile data plan, you may find opening your bill to be harrowing experience. Is there an overage charge? How much? And why was there so much data used? While the charges are concrete, the reasons are often harder to understand.
You’re not powerless, however. With the right apps, and a change of habits, you can make overage charges a thing of the past.
Here’s how to reduce data usage and defeat the mobile bill boogyman.
Use WiFi At Home
Almost every smartphone or tablet that’s capable of cellular data also includes a Wi-Fi radio. You can use this to connect to a home wireless network just as you would connect a laptop or desktop PC, and once connected, cellular data won’t be used.
Both Android and iOS users can connect to a wireless network by opening the Settings menu, switching Wi-Fi on and then tapping the Wi-Fi entry to open a list of available networks. Just enter your home network’s security key and you’re done.
Users on iOS can further refine usage by going to Settings -> General -> Cellular. Scroll to the bottom of that menu and you’ll see the option to turn cellular data on or off for various services. Turning them all off will reduce data usage.
You can also use Wi-Fi outside your home, though security concerns do apply.
Use A Data Monitor To Keep An Eye On Usage
Android added a built-in data monitor into Android 4.0. It can be accessed through Settings -> Data Usage and will show you how data has been used per-app and overall. Tapping on an app in this menu will open its data usage settings if any are available.
Apple’s iOS provides a less detailed breakdown under Settings -> General -> Usage -> Cellular Usage. You can see how much data has been sent and received overall, but not per-app. You’ll need to download an app like Data Master or Onavo.
Once you have a data monitor, you’ll be able to see what apps are data hogs. Once that is known, those apps can have their data access curtailed or can be un-installed completely. You can also keep an eye on yourself – perhaps data is being used by obsessive YouTube streaming!
Disable Push Content
Push content is any data that’s automatically “pushed” to your phone without user interaction. It isn’t a data hog during normal use, but not everyone’s usage is normal. A high volume of emails or constant use of multiple social networks may slowly and steadily put data use at dangerous levels.
Android users with a 4.0 or better device can disable push content per-app through the Data Usage menu we already mentioned. Just tap on an app in that menu, then tap the View App Settings button. Users can also change the sync settings of Facebook, Google and other accounts by going to Settings -> Accounts or Settings -> Accounts and Sync (on pre-4.0 devices).
Those with an iOS device can find relevant options under Settings -> Notifications. Each individual app with notifications will be listed here. You can also turn off cellular data for specific iOS integrated features by visiting Settings -> General -> Cellular.
Stream With Caution
Streaming HD video is a chief consumer of mobile data. Just one hour of streaming HD – barely enough for a television episode or half a movie – can eat through two gigabytes of data. That’s more than many basic data plans offer for an entire month of usage.
Standard definition can still consume a lot of data, but it’s a fraction of HD. Yes, the quality will be lower – but what other choice do you have? High overage charges make streaming an HD movie more expensive than buying the same title at the store once your data limit is exceeded.
Use of streaming music should be carefully monitored, as well. Though it requires less data per minute than HD video, it’s much easier to stream for extremely long periods of time. A service like Spotify can consume a low-end data plan’s monthly allotment with about forty hours of use. That may seem extreme, but it’s easy to hit that limit if you listen to music during a long commute or at work.
Use 3G To Discourage Consumption
Most of today’s high-end mobile devices support 4G data. This allows for speeds that exceed many home Internet connections, but faster speeds mean quicker use of the data you’re allowed.
You can reduce data usage by downgrading to 3G. Android devices can be troublesome because of different manufacturer skins and carrier restrictions, but there are apps like 4G Toggle that work with many devices. Others, like 4G Toggle for EVO, only work with a specific phone or tablet.
If you have an iOS device, the steps are easier. Just go to Settings -> Cellular and turn Enable LTE to off.
When on 3G you’ll likely find that HD video won’t play smoothly. Streaming music may buffer, as well, if the 3G connection is not strong. Please note that this option does not decrease the data used by content. Instead it’s a mental trick. You’ll no longer be able to access HD content or large downloads quickly, so you’ll be less likely to do so.
These tips should help reduce your mobile data consumption. Unfortunately, most of them require that you partially cripple the full potential of your smartphone. Today’s devices are capable of amazing performance but often bound by ridiculous data plans. All the more reason to choose unlimited data – if a carrier in your area offers it.