Do you worry each billing cycle about the amount of data you’re burning through on your smartphone? Are you going over limit each month despite your best efforts?
Family cell phone plans is latest battleground for consumer dollars among the four U.S. national wireless carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Carriers compete not only on price, but also the size of data bucket, which could give each member as little as just a single gigabyte. Exact offers vary, but given the richness of media available today, it’s possible for an individual to exceed the limits meant for an entire family, so careful data budgeting is essential.
Check the six following things you can do to keep your data usage under control.
- Free texting applications
Text messages you think are “free” might actually be draining your data. Whether you use Apple iMessage, Google Hangouts, or a third-party app like TextFree or WhatsApp, texting applications have the potential to consume a lot of data. If you’re sending only text-based messages, you have little to worry about—but you’re going to burn a lot of data texting pictures and videos.
- Facebook videos
If you have Facebook on your phone, you may be using more data than you realize. If a friend posts a video in their newsfeed, you may notice it sometimes plays automatically when you scroll past it. Guess what that does? Yep—eats data. Fortunately, you can turn this auto-play function off. Here’s how:
- Open Facebook and go to Settings.
- Change Videos Auto-play to Off. You can also set it to Wi-Fi Only, so they’ll only play when you’re connected to your Wi-Fi.
- Go to Settings. Tap Facebook and go to Settings.
- Under Video, you can set Auto-play to Off or Wi-Fi Only.
Other social networking apps may have similar settings. Instagram, for example, has a setting to only pre-load videos while on Wi-Fi. Keep in mind uploading videos to social networks can burn just as much data as watching them, so you might want to wait until you’re connected to Wi-Fi before sharing your stuff.
- Streaming music
Streaming music is a great way to listen to your favorite tunes on the go, but even free music-streaming applications deplete data pretty quickly. Apps like Spotify and Pandora can burn through nearly 1MB per minute. If you have a 2GB data plan, that gives you little more than just an hour per day listening time a month—and that’s only if you don’t consume data using anything else.
The best solution is to listen to music when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, whether it be at work or home, or store it in the built-in memory in the phone. Some streaming apps will offer an offline listening option, sometimes at a nominal fee, where it will download some of your upcoming playlist into the phone’s memory while you are on Wi-Fi.
- Streaming video
If you like to catch up on your favorite television show during lunch, you may be exceeding your plan’s data limit in no time, especially with fast LTE data connections and HD video. If you absolutely must stream video, check to see if there are any bandwidth options. Netflix, for example, allows users to customize the quality of streaming. The lowest setting will use up 300MB per hour, just a tenth of what it would at the highest setting.
- Freeze the background
You may be using a lot of data if you have apps and services continually running and updating in the background. Just one app or service probably won’t use that much—but more than one can quickly add up to a data burn. Some apps and services, such as email and Facebook, are constantly checking for updates. Fortunately, you can turn off background app refresh for just some or all your apps and services.
On an iOS device:
- Go to Settings and tap General.
- Tap Background App Refresh.
- Here, you can tap the master switch and turn background refresh off for all services and apps, or you can scroll through the list and select the programs you want to refresh in the background.
iOS 8 also has the option to disable apps from using cellular data entirely. In Settings, go into Cellular, and from there you can toggle on and off which apps may use mobile data.
On an Android device:
- Tap Settings and select Data Usage.
- Scroll down to see how much data each app has consumed, and click on it to see more information. If you want it to stop refreshing in the background, check the Restrict Background Data box.
If you’d like for the phone to not use any data at all in the background, you can also check the Restrict Background Data box from the Data Usage menu. Keep in mind that this will also halt notifications of messages and emails coming in until you open the app.
- Web Browser Compression
Web browser apps like Chrome and Opera offer options to compress the data from a website before it’s delivered to your phone or tablet. It won’t work for secure connection websites such as online banking, but for most websites it’ll make smarter use of every megabyte. Note that you may have to go into the app’s settings to enable it.
Keep in mind that these tips will only help reduce data usage; they won’t guarantee that you will always be under your cap. Be sure to keep an eye on that data counter and adjust accordingly.