Just a few years ago, you literally had to abuse your phone to use up a full GB of mobile data. But today, it is easy to burn through multiple gigs of data in just a few days and you are left wondering: Where does it all go?
As a former international telecom executive, I know how rapid improvements in telco infrastructure and devices can lead to frustration with consumers when dealing with the reality of data consumption and costs. Each transformation, from 2G to 3G, from 3G to LTE, from feature phone to smart phone, came with the same public outcry: What happened to my data bundle? Who has stolen my data while I slept?
Generally speaking: data does not just disappear. I am not saying it is never your operator’s fault but most of the time it really has not been stolen. I do think operators have a responsibility to inform their customers about how to manage their data usage better.
It can be very insightful to have a good knowledge of your phone’s settings and your own behavior. You may find that you are consuming data at a faster rate than you realized.
Driving a fast car
I sometimes compare it to driving a car. When you are used to driving a slow, small car on a gravel road, your fuel consumption will not be super high. But as soon as you switch to driving a luxury car on a fast motorway, fuel costs will explode. Why? Because you will drive faster and your car is bigger and has more power. Plus, luxury features like AC or climate control also use up fuel. Both vehicles and roads will get you from A to B, but not with the same convenience and not at the same cost.
The faster networks become, the more you will burn through your data.
Perhaps some of you remember what it was like to change from a feature phone to a smart phone? The data usage difference is huge. Mostly because smart phones are, you know, pretty smart. They do lots of things automatically without asking you first. And, whether you like it or not, they become smarter with each software update.
Nowadays, every time you check your phone, you see real-time notifications of a WhatsApp message, a Facebook comment, and e-mail or a retweet. Many data-hungry apps are constantly running in the background to gather information from their server, also when you are not using your phone or even sleeping. Your Appstore may update your apps automatically, not caring if it eats into your internet bundle. If you don’t know how to manage your phone, auto-syncing, auto-updating and auto-background usage could eat up hundreds of MB in just a few minutes,
You snooze, you lose
Don’t you love it when you open Instagram or Facebook and the video’s start playing automatically as you scroll? In high resolution? It’s very convenient but unless you are on Wi-Fi it will deplete your precious bundle very fast. Do you use Google Maps to find your way around Kigali? Navigation constantly sends data back and forth to track your location on the map. Using data. The popular WhatsApp is famous for its inexplicable high data usage. It likes to back-up all your chats including photos and videos while you are sleeping. Also, if there is no WIFI. You snooze, you lose.
And because your phone wants you to have the best connection always, it will automatically search for the fastest connection. Sounds perfect, but if you are in an area with poor Wi-Fi connection, it will automatically switch to cellular and guess what happens to your data bundle? Right!
These are just settings on your phone, but what about you?
Your own behavior also changes as soon as you have access to fast internet and a smartphone. Smart phones change people’s lives. Mostly for the better but sometimes unfortunately not. We all know that person that is always on their phone: at dinner, during meetings, walking on the street or even while driving a car. Yes, this is Kigali folks, I see people using their phone in the car all the time. (Please, STOP!).
Truth is, when you have a super fast network, there is simply more that you can do on your phone in much less time. Don’t underestimate this. You may check your email more often, share stuff on social media more often and stream more often without realizing it.
But let’s not despair. There are things you can do to protect yourself and your wallet. Here are some helpful tips on how you can avoid the mysterious disappearance of data by just changing a few settings on your phone. Extra perk: some of these will also save a lot of battery time.
1. Monitor your app data usage
Most smart phones have a feature that monitors data use. Or you can download an app like My Data Manager. It is helpful to understand which apps on your phone are using the most data. On some phones you can even set a warning system when you reach a certain amount.
2. Restrict background data and Auto Sync
It is possible to completely restrict background data. This would also mean no push e-mail or notifications, which is part of the fun of owning a smart phone. So, another option is to do this manually, per individual app. For example, you can turn down the frequency of push notifications on Facebook. Adjust Auto Synch especially for apps like WhatsApp’s, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Learn more: Android | iPhone.
3. Stop auto downloads for updates
It is really unnecessary to update your apps over cellular, so this is a no-brainer. Android users go to the Play Store and open the menu. In Settings, make sure “Auto-update apps” is set to “Auto-update over Wi-Fi only”. iPhone users use Settings > iTunes & App store.
4. Switch off Smart network switch / WIFI-Assist
Smart Network Switch (Android) and Wi-Fi Assist (iPhone) are features that allow your phone to automatically switch between Wi-Fi and cellular networks to maintain a stable connection. So, if you are at a place with poor Wi-Fi signal and fast 3G or LTE, your phone will automatically switch to cellular. You think you are on Wi-Fi, but you are not, and your bundles are depleting. Learn more: Android | iPhone
5. Turn off mobile data when not needed
Ok, another no-brainer, but it really is only to way make sure no data from your bundle is being used. You can still make and receive calls and texts. Or use a Wi-Fi network. And if the Wif-Fi is down for some reason, your phone does not switch automatically to cellular during the night. Also helpful when traveling abroad to avoid unexpected roaming charges. Go to settings > Cellular or Mobile Data and toggle off. And sleep like a baby.
6. Manage WhatsApp back-up
WhatsApp is known to gobble up lots of data. You can set WhatsApp to download multimedia files automatically only when on Wi-Fi, which already helps. But to ensure the back-ups to the Cloud/Google Drive are only done on Wi-Fi – and exclude videos – you need to change the settings on the app. You can learn more here.
7. Reduce (High Definition) streaming
We all know that streaming costs data. If you have storage space on your device, you can download music, video’s or podcasts when you are on Wi-Fi and then play them offline. Or, if there is no Wi-fi and you want to stream, you could reduce the quality of streaming. For example, on the YouTube app settings, you can choose to play in HD only on Wi-Fi . While you are at it, how about switching off “Auto-Play next video”. That’s an annoying feature anyway.
8. Disable Auto-play
Not just YouTube does Auto-Play, social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter now automatically start playing videos when you scroll over them leading to high data costs. You can change the video settings in the App settings and just choose the videos you want to watch.
9. Stop Auto-Sync Cloud settings
If you use a Cloud service, like Google Drive, be aware that if these automatically synchronize, they could use up your data. You can change the settings to transfer files over Wi-Fi only in the Google Drive Settings menu.
10. Delete unused apps
These may be running despite you not using them and it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? And it will nicely clean-up your home screen. Win-Win.
Other Sources used:
Ilse Lasschuijt works as a writer, editor and copywriter based in Kigali, Rwanda, with an interest in a travel, tech and (life)-style.