Mobile data usage is expensive. So how do you keep your bill low while out and about, without compromising on data?
The answer is to be smart with your smartphone. Use apps, but also use built-in features to help you avoid hitting that mobile internet cap. Following these simple but effective tips will help you reduce data usage and cut your charges.
Have you ever found yourself exceeding your data allowance on your phone or tablet? Perhaps you thought everything was okay but didn’t realize that you had exceeded your data limit until the bill arrived.
Unfortunately, mobile internet is rarely unlimited. Once exceeded (perhaps you’re using your phone’s wireless hotspot feature), you will be charged for all extra data. To combat this, you need to think smart.
You can cap mobile data on Android using the built-in tools.
- Open Settings.
- Find Network & Internet > Data usage.
- Tap Data warning & limit and Set data warning to set a flag (say, 1GB below your limit).
- You can also Set data limit to specify your carrier’s limit.
- In Data usage, enable Data saver to use less data overall.
Visit Settings > Mobile data to view how much mobile data you’ve used in the Current Period. There’s also a Current Period Roaming total.
On this page, you can block apps that you don’t want to have internet access by tapping their switches. Streaming apps are the most obvious choice here.
Various apps use compression technology to reduce your data usage. You might already use some of them, without realizing the impact.
First on your list should be Google Chrome. Regardless of how you might feel about Google, Chrome has a built-in data-saving tool. Enable it by tapping Settings > Data Saver > Use Data Saver.
Built around low data usage, data saving in Opera Mini is enabled by default, via the app’s main menu. Unlike Chrome, you can adjust various data saving features, such as setting the quality of web page images.
Download: Opera Mini for Android
Want to save money on mobile data charges? Maybe you should change the way you think about accessing the internet through your phone.
Your smartphone features two ways of getting online: mobile internet and Wi-Fi.
You probably use Wi-Fi often. After all, free Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere, in city centers, shopping malls, transportation hubs, and campuses.
There’s an obvious conclusion: to reduce data usage, use Wi-Fi wherever it is available. Not all Wi-Fi networks are safe, but you can protect yourself with a mobile VPN subscription.
Although less common than standard single-SIM phones, dual-SIM devices let you take advantage of two mobile networks or price plans. This might come in handy, for example, if you have a work phone and a personal mobile device.
Perhaps you tend to rely on your work phone for mobile internet when your own data plan runs out. With a dual-SIM phone, however, you can use both SIM cards in the same phone. This removes the requirement for separate devices, is convenient, and adds your employer’s mobile internet allowance to your own phone.
While you use your phone, a lot of activity happens in the background. For example, Google Play and Apple’s App Store check for updates and your email app looks for new messages. Meanwhile, social media apps push updates to your phone; the list goes on.
All this data adds to your mobile internet usage. We’re not even talking about apps updating—just the data they sync. Whatever apps you use with a regular requirement for data are costing you money.
You can disable some apps that sync at Settings > Apps & notifications. Here you’ll find apps that sync various data, such as your contacts. Tap each one and check the data usage—if it’s too much, tap Data usage, then disable Background data.
This is potentially time consuming as it may take a while to go through all of your apps.
On iOS, you can disable native apps from syncing via Settings > [Your name] > iCloud. All you need to do now is tap each service that you don’t need to sync.
Almost all apps that require constant syncing will let you manage how data syncs in their individual settings.
If you can’t find the right setting, then simply disabling mobile internet is an option too.
On a similar note, consider your cloud storage. It’s always a good idea to have a cloud sync set up with your phone. Perhaps you need to upload photos automatically, or access documents in Google Drive. Whatever the case, you should ensure that these services don’t use your mobile data. Instead, configure them to use Wi-Fi only.
Check the specific settings for your preferred cloud app, based on the mobile platform (Android or iOS) you’re using.
This solution is so useful, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it already. Instead of streaming audio from your preferred service, just download it to your phone before you leave the house.
Most phones ship with enough storage to store a collection of your favorite music.
While you might own a smartphone with low storage, Android phones commonly feature a microSD card slot for expanding space. The only difference is that you should copy the MP3s to this storage, rather than your phone.
Once you’re done, use your phone’s built-in audio player to enjoy your music—no internet required! Alternatively, upgrading to the paid version of Spotify, Apple Music, and other services lets you download music to your phone.
Streaming high definition (HD) video is a chief consumer of mobile data. Just one hour of streaming HD (say, half a movie) can eat through 2GB of data. Some basic plans only offer 5GB for an entire month of usage.
That’s before we even start to talk about 2K and 4K video streaming. Mobile internet is unsuitable for anything above HD (1080p) but with the arrival of 5G, this looks set to change.
If you must stream video, use standard definition (SD) instead. The quality will be poorer, but the data used will be far lower and you’ll avoid overage charges.
Most of today’s high-end mobile devices support 4G and 5G data. This allows for speeds that exceed many home internet connections.
But faster speeds mean quicker use of your mobile data allowance.
Another way to reduce mobile data usage is by downgrading to 3G. Android devices can be troublesome because of different manufacturer skins and carrier restrictions, but it is possible:
- Open Settings > Network & Internet.
- Tap Mobile network > Advanced.
- Tap Preferred network type.
- Select your preference—use 3G only, or 3G (preferred)/2G.
If you have an iOS device, the steps are easier:
- Go to Settings > Mobile Data > Mobile Data Options.
- Tap Voice & Data.
- Select 3G or LTE Off.
Note that most data use will not change. Rather, this is a psychological trick to try on yourself. You’ll no longer be able to access HD content or large downloads quickly, so you’ll be less likely to try.
Ask yourself: do you really need to get online?
Social networks feel immediate. Emails often give you the impression that they require an instant reply. Online messaging is another communication method that supposedly demands fast responses. Then there’s the addictive news gathering, gossip seeking, and other hysterics that make up the modern web.
None of these are 100 percent necessary. You can survive the day without checking the showbiz news or sharing a hot take on Twitter. So, if there’s no Wi-Fi, and mobile internet is expensive, just stay offline.
You’ll be amazed how refreshing it is.
Whether you prefer toggling a few settings, using a browser that compresses your data, or realizing you don’t actually need anything but public Wi-Fi, using less data will save you money.
We’ve looked at eight ways in which to do this:
- Manually cap mobile internet.
- Enable data compression.
- Use Wi-Fi instead of mobile internet.
- Use a dual-SIM phone.
- Stop apps from automatically syncing.
- Ensure cloud apps only use Wi-Fi syncing.
- Stop streaming music.
- Don’t stream HD video.
- Switch to slower mobile internet.
- Stay offline for a while.
Going without data doesn’t prevent you from having fun. There are lots of great games you can play that don’t even need a data connection.