Unlimited data plans for smartphones are nearly a thing of the past. Even if you’ve managed to hang on to your unlimited data plan, there’s a good chance it’s not truly unlimited. Your carrier probably throttles your data speeds if you exceed a certain amount of downloaded data in a given billing period.
Data usage per smartphone is growing like crazy, which is prompting the typical smartphone user to buy bigger data allowances as they sign up for shared data plans and add other devices, especially tablets. Ka-ching!
There are things that you, as a socially connected, tech-savvy person with a smartphone and a limited data plan can do to stay below your limited data plan cap. Follow these tips to cut back on your data habit, track and monitor your usage, and stretch your data plan — so you never have to pay overage charges again.
CONNECT TO WI-FI. This might seem like a no-brainer, but all of us need a good reminder from time to time: Being connected to Wi-Fi (as opposed to using your service provider’s cellular network to access the Internet) does not require and therefore eat up your data plan. If the places you frequent most — home, work, friends’ places, bus stops, train stations, cafes, coffee shops — have open connections, use them.
MIND THE STREAMING. Streaming video is the worst culprit when it comes to burning through your monthly data allotment. A five-minute YouTube video sucks up 5-10 megabytes. A single 22-minute TV episode on Netflix blows through at least 100-megabytes; movies, even more. Don’t do it. Wait to watch those cat videos until you have a Wi-Fi connection.
MUSIC CHOICES. The music you listen to when you’re not on Wi-Fi can make a huge difference in how much data you’re using. If you’re listening to Pandora or Spotify while connected to your cellular network, an hour of music will eat up 50-70 megabytes of data. But you have a better option. Save music to your phone by downloading albums so you can listen locally. You’ll enjoy better quality without ripping through tons of data, saving services like Pandora for when you’re on Wi-Fi.
BE SOCIAL, BUT JUDICIOUSLY. If you’ve become a habitual social network checker, stop and think: Am I on Wi-Fi or data plan? What seems like a fairly lightweight activity like running through Facebook or Twitter can actually consume 5 to 10 megabytes of data each time you check — especially if you’re clicking on links and photos. Do that a few times a day over a 3G or LTE data network, you could be wasting a couple of gigs of data on this alone. Constant use of multiple social networks or even high volume of emails may slowly and steadily put data use at dangerous levels.
DISABLE “WI-FI ASSIST.” With iOS 9, Apple introduced a new feature, Wi-Fi Assist. It’s actually very cool, but could cost you hundreds of dollars if you are not aware of what it is and how it works. This feature arrived in the “enable” position when you upgraded your iPhone 5. It tells your iPhone to automatically seek a cellphone network if you are connected to a weak Wi-Fi signal. Here are the steps to disable Wi-Fi Assist: Go to “Settings” then click on “Cellular.” Scroll all the way to the bottom — past all of your apps — and you’ll find “Wi-Fi Assist.” Turn it to the off position.
READ, SNAP AND SEND LATER. When you’re on your cellular data connection and you come across a link that you don’t have to read that second, bookmark it or favorite it for later and you’ll save a few megabytes. Same goes for photos if at all possible. Uploading photos and videos to social sites or — even email in real time — while not connected to Wi-Fi can use up tens of megabytes! Stop it. Acquire this new habit: Snap now, upload later.
MONITOR YOURSELF. Monthly data limits are every smartphone user’s enemy. A small download at the wrong time may send your bill skyrocketing. Your iPhone has built-in tools that allow you to track your data usage, although free reports from your carrier give you a more accurate picture. To track on your iPhone, go to “Settings” then “Cellular,” and look for Cellular Data Usage. On your Android smartphone go to “Settings” and tap “Data Usage.” To change the cycle date to match the start date of your monthly plan, check the “Set Mobile Data Limit” box (or “Limit Mobile Data” on some phones) if you want your phone to block you from using any mobile data after you exceed your limit
If you follow most of these tips, chances are good that you can cut your monthly data use in half. For sure this will cripple the full potential of your smartphone while not connected to a Wi-Fi network, but given the high cost of going over on data usage — and the potential for rates to increase in the near future — that sounds like a great idea to me.