Rare is the smartphone user who doesn't look back fondly upon the days when data was truly unlimited. Those days weren't that long ago, several years to be fairly exact, but the sting hasn't quite faded for most phone addicts.
It is true that unlimited cell phone plans have made a comeback, however, that doesn't mean unlimited high-speed data. Once you hit around 22 GB (on average), your provider may throttle your speed.
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It's not too tough to hit that data cap. Consider this - according to Business Insider, just an hour per day of high-quality music streaming can amount to over 4 GB per month. Add in social media, YouTube videos, emails, and other apps such as games and you could have a serious data consumption problem on your hands.
Don't worry, though - there are ways to cut your mobile data usage without sacrificing too much in terms of your favorite mobile activities.
The first step to reducing your mobile data usage is to find out how much you're using to begin with.
Here are five ways to take control of your data usage. Following these tips will not only help you avoid overages or throttling, but you may even be able to scale your plan back and save money on your monthly bill. Considering that cell phone bills can run well over $100 a month, it only makes sense to do everything you can to minimize the hit to your wallet.
1. Track Your Data Usage
The first step to reducing your mobile data usage is to find out how much you're using, to begin with. Did you know you can find that very information just by looking in your settings? This built-in feature is easy to overlook, yet is available for both iPhone and Android systems.
How to check mobile data usage on iOS:
Settings --> Cellular --> Cellular data usage
Within this menu, you will also see a breakdown of how much data each of your apps is using. This analysis can be extremely helpful in tracking how much you're using and which apps to target for reduction techniques.
You do need to make sure, however, that you reset the statistics at the end of each billing period. If you don't, you'll get a general idea of your greediest data-slurpers over the life of your phone, however, you won't know how much each uses in an average month. I like to set reminder alerts in my phone's calendar for tasks like this, that way you can "set it and forget it"...until next month, that is.
How to check mobile data usage on Android:
Settings --> Wireless & Networks --> Data usage
If you have an older version of the Android OS this setting may be found through a slightly different navigational path, however, it should be very similar and simple to locate.
The beauty of Android is that not only can you see how much data you've used during the current billing cycle, you can also check past cycles as well as program the date on which you want the statistics to reset. Individual app usage info is also available on Android, just as in iOS.
2. Take Advantage of Settings & Apps
Now that you know how much data you're using in an average billing cycle, you can better manage your usage app by app. There are several things you can do to decrease usage just by customizing your settings. There are also apps designed specifically to help you track and control data suckers.
You've got several options for reducing mobile data usage on your iPhone or iPad:
- Edit data-leaking widgets: From the main screen, swipe right then scrolls down to "Edit" to remove lock screen icons you don't want.
- Disable automatic downloads: Settings --> iTunes & App Store --> Turn off "Use Cellular Data"
- Disable iCloud cellular access: Settings --> iCloud Drive --> Turn off "Use Cellular Data"
- Customize background app refresh: Settings --> General --> disable background app refresh on desired apps
- Customize your mail settings: Settings --> Mail --> turn off "Use Cellular Data" and/or "Load Remote Images"
- Disable WiFi Assist (automatically uses cellular data when WiFi is spotty): Settings --> Cellular --> turn off "WiFi Assist"
- Turn cellular access off by individual app: Settings --> Cellular
If you're at the end of your billing cycle and really getting down to the wire on your remaining data, you could also turn off cellular usage for Apple Music. I'm sure, however, that you're hoping it doesn't come to that.
Related: Find the Cheapest iPhone Plans
The Android OS also offers some handy features you can use to limit usage:
- Set a data limit: Settings --> Wireless & Networks --> Data Usage --> Set Data Limit (within this menu you can also choose when to receive a warning as you approach your limit).
- Restrict background usage: You'll find a list of your apps in the above menu. Click on the app you wish to restrict from using background data, like social media apps. Keep in mind that you won't receive notifications for apps you've restricted, and some system apps will stop running.*
- Compress data in Chrome: Open Chrome and go into your settings. Scroll to the bottom and enable Data Saver. I personally don't notice any appreciable difference in image quality using this option. When you go back into Settings, you can even see how much data you've saved since turning it on.
- Disable auto-updating: Keep your apps from updating automatically when you're on a cellular connection. Open your Play Store menu then go into Settings --> Auto-update apps --> Auto-update apps over WiFi only.
- Customize mail syncing: If your mail is set to auto-update too often, decrease the frequency or shut it off in your mail app's settings.
- Disable other syncing: Go into Settings then Accounts and turn off anything you don't absolutely need to auto-sync.
*A note on Android 7.0 Nougat: If you have a newer device, you can whitelist apps rather than restricting background data one by one. Go into Settings --> Wireless & Networks --> Data Usage --> Data Saver. Toggle the slider on, then click "Unrestricted data access". From here you can toggle on sliders for each individual app that you want to have unrestricted access.
Related: Save even more money with the Best Family Cell Phone Plans
On Both Operating Systems
- Disable autoplay videos on social media apps: This option is accessible within your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram app settings.
- Use data-saving apps: Download apps like Opera Max or Neopard - these help you automatically shave down your usage.
Just using these tips alone should lower your data usage by a considerable amount. That's not all, though, there are more ways to preserve those coveted GBs.
3. Make WiFi Your Best Friend
TechCrunch reported last year that 70% of internet traffic is comprised of streaming services, with YouTube perched at the top of the mobile data use heap. Stream just an hour of videos on the YouTubes or Netflix and you could burn through more than 400 MB. If you're on a limited data plan, that is not good news.
Did you know that your cable or internet provider may be your key to free WiFi on the go?
You can choose to lower the resolution within each streaming app, however, if you prefer to watch in HD your best bet is to restrict your viewing to WiFi only. You should also be saving app downloads for WiFi. Spending the evening at a friend's house? Be sure to nab their WiFi password. It's an extra step, but one that could save you big.
Related: Shop for the Best Internet Providers
Use your Internet away from home: Did you know that your cable or internet provider may be your key to free WiFi on the go? Some providers, like Comcast Internet, include the use of their WiFi hotspots as long as you're subscribed to their cable service. Verizon also offers such a perk. Simply go into your WiFi networks while out and about and find your provider in the list. You'll then be able to sign into the network using your cable television account info.
4. Take Your Streaming Offline
Offline music and video streaming are some of the greatest inventions since sliced bread, at least in terms of saving mobile data. You already know these activities eat up your allotment like there's no tomorrow - but did you know some services are available for download? Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, and pay video services like YouTube Red allow you to download content for offline viewing or listening. Even Netflix hopped on the bandwagon in late 2016, finally offering its long-awaited offline viewing option.
5. Keep Your Background Clean
You know that little button that allows you to see which apps you have open? Hit that to view and close apps you're not currently using. Even if you're not actively doing something within these apps, they are running in the background, happily chomping through your data like Pac-Man gobbling up power pellets.
Also, don't forget to power your phone down once in a while and wipe the cache data (to do so, follow your model's instructions for rebooting in recovery mode, which is where you will find this option). Even though it's not necessary to turn your phone off more than once a year, according to experts, wiping cache data not only shuts down everything that's running but it also frees up a little of your phone memory.
Reduce Your Mobile Data Usage Recap
It goes without saying that you should turn off roaming data while out of the country unless you have a plan that allows you international data. You're no doubt also aware of the fact that using tethering or turning your smartphone into a mobile hotspot are also great ways to rip through your data like a wildfire in a drought.
Related: Maximize savings with the Best Cell Phone Plans
On top of those obvious measures, however, following the tips I've given you in this guide will enable you to finally win the war against your data plan. This will become even more important over the next few years. A study by Ericsson shows that average mobile data usage will grow to about 22 GB per month by 2021, compared to 2015's 3.7 GB. Now that you know how to mitigate the damage, though, you'll be ready.