When it comes to phone plans, data is often the real selling point. There is a huge range of plans offering unlimited calls and text, but data is still given only sparingly and often as an incentive to get the customer to upgrade to a more expensive plan.
Monthly phone plans with unlimited data do exist, but many contain hidden limits, fees and speed throttling when you reach a certain amount. Few people really need unlimited data, especially with the hefty price tag attached.
For most consumers, the best strategy is to optimise the amount of data you are currently using before deciding whether to increase your allowance. Here are some ways you can judge if your data allowance is enough for you, or if it’s time to go looking for a new plan.
See how much data you really use.
A simple look around settings in iOS will help you find what you need.
It can be difficult to accurately estimate how much data you’re actually using. While you might have an idea of how much time you spend on your phone, probably the majority of your usage occurs when you have access to Wi-Fi. If you can get accurate information about which apps are using your mobile data and how much they use, you can start to make decisions about your needs.
The best place to get information on your total mobile data usage is on the statement your carrier sends you. Your statements will show how much data you used, and how much you paid for it. While you can often get on-the-spot updates on your data usage from your carrier and even alarms for when you are close to your limit, these figures are often delayed by 48 hours. By the time you receive the warning, you could have already gone over your allocated amount.
Data can also be watched via your phone. iPhone owners can see how much data they have used by going to Settings > Cellular > Cellular data usage. Some plans don’t start and finish based on the calendar month so bear that in mind while tracking your data, and you might need to manually reset the tracker each month.
Your Data Draining Apps
Apps that use data in the background can quickly drain your allowance, and you might not even know it’s happening unless you check. On iOS phones, you can find more information about your usage under Settings > Cellular > Apps using WLAN & Cellular. That will show you what apps you have running in the background, and where the majority of your internet time is spent.
If an app isn’t absolutely necessary, consider setting it to only update when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. Another effective option is to get into the habit of disabling mobile data until you actually want to use it. You won’t get real time updates when you’re away from Wi-Fi, but it gives you much more control over how your data is used.
Control Your Emails
Without realising it, many people have their emails set to “push”, which means your phone receives email almost as soon as it is sent. Instead, think about changing your email settings so that they only download when you choose to do it manually, or at a lower frequency such as an hourly check and download.
Sometimes emails do get stuck in limbo – either because your attempt to send an email has failed or because an attachment you have received fails to download properly. Your phone could be allocating data to these emails. Instead, delete any problem emails and regularly check your outbox is clear. Remember that when you have files to send, it’s best to wait until you have Wi-Fi whenever possible.
Download where possible
Often we use mobile data while we’re killing time. Videos, music and podcasts are some of the best timewasters – and the biggest drain on your data. If you watch a lot of video, consider subscribing for YouTube Red, which is a paid subscription that allows you to save videos on your phone over Wi-Fi so you can watch them offline.
YouTube Red also has a music service. Other music options for iOS include Apple Music, Google Play and Spotify. Paid versions of these services allow users to create playlists that can be listened to offline. Podcasts can also be downloaded ahead of time when Wi-Fi is available.
Your navigation apps can also chew through a lot of data. Cache travel information before you leave so you don’t need mobile downloads – if you load the route beforehand, you can travel without data enabled. You might find this less accurate, but you can always turn your data back on if you run into trouble.
Apps to maximise your data
There are many free iOS apps that can help you track your data and reduce your usage. Some options are:
- Apps like Wi-Fi Finder Free help you locate nearby Wi-Fi hotspots
- Opera Mini iOS compresses data and reduces your usage when browsing.
- My Data Manager can be set up to track and restrict data usage for individuals and families.
- Apps like Pocket Casts allow you to access and download podcasts.
- MobiStats is another data tracking app that tells you how much you use and where.
The right plan for you
There are many different options if you need extra data. Some companies offer data hotspots that you can pay a monthly fee to access. Many also offer data rollover, which allows you to access any unused data the following month. If you only rarely go over your allotted amount, choosing a company that automatically gives you extra data for a set fee (such as $10 for an extra 1GB) might save you money in the long run.
Mobile data is a valuable resource, so make the most of what you have. A bit of preparation and a few small changes will allow you to use your data on the things that matter most.