How to . . . cut down on your mobile data usage

Roaming charges are on the way out but you still might need to keep an eye on your data use

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock


Smartphones are useful things to have. Faster mobile data networks means these days, your phone probably multitasks as a work device, a social tool, entertainment, a sat nav for travelling, a health and fitness accessory, and more, with barely a stutter.

But all this can use can add up if you aren’t on an unlimited data plan, which can lead to some nasty shocks in your monthly phone bill. That’s before you even start looking at roaming charges for data. Although the EU has taken steps to reduce roaming charges over the past few years and plans to do away with them completely this summer, there are still several bills to go before that happens. It also covers only EU member states, and the world is a very big place outside that region.

So how do you cut down your mobile data usage?

Turn off mobile data:

Let’s start with the obvious one. If you don’t want to use too much mobile data, you can simply switch it off whenever you feel like it. Of course that means that you won’t be able to do a lot of things with your smartphone that you usually would - get email, update social media, get maps if you are in a new place, all the useful things you do without thinking about it - but your mobile data bill will thank you for it.

On iOS, go to Settings>Mobile Data and switch off the slider beside Mobile Data. You can also find advanced options under Mobile Data Options. Here you can disable 4G, if your network supports it, and turn off mobile data roaming when abroad.

On Android, go to Settings>Data Usage and slide Mobile data to off. You can also access mobile data from the quick settings drop down that appears when you swipe down from the top of the screen.

Use wifi as much as possible:

Free wifi hotspots, paid for services - there are (usually) plenty available, at least in urban areas - will fill in the gaps if you really need to get access to your Facebook page.

On iOS, you should probably switch off Wifi Assist, which will automatically use mobile data when your wifi connection is poor. Go to Settings>Mobile Data, and scroll down to the very bottom to Wifi Assist. Move the slider to off.

Set wifi limits:

This is for Android users only unfortunately. You can tell your phone to alert you when you are reaching a certain level of data use during a set period. Go to Settings>Data Usage>Set Mobile Data Limit. When you reach the specified level, your mobile data should switch off, ensuring you don’t go over your limits.

On iOS, you can see what data you are using by going to Settings>Mobile Data and checking the figure under Mobile Data Usage. You need to reset the statistics each month to get an accurate picture month to month. To do this, scroll down through the list of applications to the bottom, where you will see Reset Statistics.

Limit what applications can use mobile and background data:

If turning off data really isn’t an option, you can tell your phone to only allow certain applications access to mobile data. That way you can still get your email or chats, but you won’t have bigger files downloading automatically.

On iOS, got to Settings>Mobile Data and scroll down to Use Mobile Data For. You’ll see every app you have installed on your device with a slider beside it. You choose which applications get access to mobile data and which ones don’t.

One of the biggest culprit is background data. While you might not have the Facebook app open, for example, it’s still using data in the background to alert you to incoming notifications. And if your email is set to automatically sync, it will download email as it comes in and alert you, using data when it may not be necessary.

On iOS, you can disable background app refresh. Go to Settings>Background app refresh, and turn it off altogether, or allow it for certain applications.

On Android, got to Settings>Data Usage>Background Data. You can turn it off altogether, or, like iOS, let some apps use background data.

The bonus? You might help your battery life too.

Likewise, you can tell applications to use mobile data for certain things - on WhatsApp, for example, you choose to use only wifi for downloading media such as videos or audio, while still getting text messages through the service. WhatsApp also has a low data usage mode that you can select if you want to make voice calls to another user through the service.

On Facebook, you can disable video autoplay in settings. Select the menu button, then go to Settings>Account Settings>Videos and Photos, and ensure Autoplay is set to wifi connections only, or even better, never.

Use a browser that compresses pages:

There are some browsers out there that claim to use less data by compressing pages before sending them to your phone. Try Opera Mini web browser, which has a “Turbo” mode that shows you how much data you have saved, but still gives you access to the full web. There is also a Video Boost mode that save data and reduces the dreaded buffering.

Chrome’s mobile version offers a Data Saver mode on Android. To access it, go to the menu (the three dots in the top right corner), then Settings>Data Saver. It uses Google servers to compress data before sending it to your phone. The exception? Private connections or tabs on Incognito mode.

Install an ad blocker:

Ads aren’t just annoying, they also take up precious data allowance. If you install an adblocker, you can stop ads from sucking up your mobile data, and as a bonus, speed up your web browsing experience too.

In Android, you can block pop ups ads in the default web browser, as can Safari on iOS. If you want to go a step further, you can download an ad-blocker such as Crystal, or try an adblocking browser, such as UC browser or AdBlock Plus. Opera Mini also has an adblocking mode in its Opera Turbo option - see above.

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