Unlimited data plans for smartphones are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Even if you’ve managed to hang on to your so-called unlimited plan, it’s likely not truly unlimited. Carriers slow down data speeds to a crawl if you exceed a certain amount of downloaded data in a given billing period.
Data usage is growing like crazy due to video downloads, streaming, gaming, podcasting, Facebook Live, Face Time, and on and on. These data guzzlers and the shock of the cost of overcharges, prompt the typical smartphone user to buy bigger data allowances as they add family members and more devices to their data plans. Ka-ching!
Your Data Plan
Buried in the fine print of most carrier plans are caps on data usage, speeds, or other usage you should know a, even unlimited plans, despite what you may believe “unlimited” means.
A common usage cap for unlimited data plans, for example, is mobile hotspotting, which carriers love to charge that little bit extra for. You’ll also find soft-caps on data usage each month, where the carrier will look to slow down your speeds after you pass a certain threshold, a sneaky, if not super annoying, a practice known as “throttling.”
How to Stay Below Limit
Downloads. Video uploads. Face Time. Games. Podcasts. YouTube. Netflix. Hulu. Spotify. Instagram. You love the fun and convenience, but you don’t want to end up paying extra fees because you love them too much.
Once you are aware, carrier data caps (even those built into an “unlimited” data plan) can seem like a real downer. But 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.
1. Connect to WIFI
This might seem like a no-brainer, but all of us need a good reminder from time to time: Being connected to WIFI (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.
2. Mind the streaming
Web browsing, podcasts, online gaming, streaming live and videos are the worst culprits when it comes to burning through your monthly data allotment. A 5-minute YouTube video easily sucks up 5-10Mb. A single 22-minute TV episode on Netflix blows through at least 100Mb. Movies, even more. Don’t do it. Wait to watch those cat videos until you have a WIFI connection.
3. Music choices
The music you listen to when you’re not on WIFI 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 (data plan), an hour of music will eat up 50-70Mb 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 your favorite services for when you’re on WIFI.
4. Be social but judiciously
If you’ve become a habitual social network checker, stop and think: Am I on WIFI or my data plan? What seems like a fairly lightweight activity like running through Facebook or Twitter can actually consume 5-10 Mb of data each time you check—especially if you’re clicking on links and photos. Do that a few times a day over a 4G, 5G, 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 a high volume of emails may slowly and steadily put data use at dangerous levels.
according to the folks at Whistle Out, most apps and activities consume between 60Mb and 300Mb of data in an hour. TikTok and Instagram are the most data-hungry, eating up 840Mb and 720Mb per hour, respectively.
Web browsing, podcasts, and light online gaming consume the least amount of hourly data. Here’s a quick overview of common apps average data usage per hour,
- TikTok & Instagram – 800Mb
- Youtube & Netflix – 300Mb
- Music streaming – 150Mb
- Facebook – 80Mb
- FaceTime – 85Mb
- Web browsing – 60Mb
- Snapchat – 160Mb
5. Disable WIFI Assist
With iOS 9, Apple introduced a new feature, WIFI Assist. It’s actually very cool, but could cost you hundreds of dollars if you are not aware of what it is, how it works and that you need to manage it well.
This feature defaulted to the “enable” position when you upgraded your iPhone 5 (or newer). It tells your iPhone to automatically seek a cellphone network if you are connected to a weak WIFI signal. That means that even if you’ve dutifully waited to connect to WIFI before Face Time with the kids, if your iPhone concludes that you’re on a weak WIFI signal, it will throw you off WIFI and into the arms of your hungry cellular data plan.
Here are the steps to disable WIFI Assist: Go to “Settings” then click on “Cellular.” Scroll all the way to the bottom—past all of your apps—and you’ll find “WIFI Assist.” Turn it to the off position.
6. Read, snap, 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. The same goes for mindlessly snapping photos, if at all possible.
Uploading photos and videos to social sites (or even email) in real-time while not connected to WIFI can use up tens of megabytes! Stop it. Acquire this new habit: Snap now, upload later.
7. Monitor yourself
Monthly data limits are every smartphone user’s enemy. A small download at the wrong time may send your bill skyrocketing. Your smartphone has built-in tools that allow you to track your data usage, although free reports from your carrier will 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. Just be aware that for sure, this will cripple the full potential of your smartphone while you are not connected to a WIFI network. But given the high cost of going over on data usage—and the potential for rates to increase any day now—that sounds like a great idea to me.