A Guide to Mobile Data

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Mobile data information

Mobile data has become a staple of the 21st century. Given its increased necessity and the dearth of unlimited data plans offered by providers, data usage can be a concern for consumers wanting to save money on their phone plans. Under the terms of the majority of phone plans on the market, if you exceed the data allowance you signed up for you may be charged excess usage fees. So we’re here to inform you how to best save on your monthly data usage. Let’s take a look at what mobile data is, ways to monitor or preserve it, and examine different provider approaches to data allowances.

What is Mobile Data?

Mobile data, also known as cellular data, allows for internet access on mobile devices via a wireless network. If a phone is up and running and can surf the web, then its mobile data will automatically be on unless it’s manually switched off. Once upon a time, mobile phone plans and Pay As You Go top ups were all about how many texts or calls you could make, but now the focus has shifted to mobile data.

The term ‘data allowance’ refers to the amount of mobile data included in a given phone plan, or available on a Pay As You Go top up. Once your data allowance has been used up, if you’re on Pay As You Go you will run out of credit and won’t be able to use your mobile internet; if you’re on a pay monthly plan you will be charged for any data used in excess.

Data Usage: Save on Data

Most of us have been bitten by an unwanted bill at some time in our lives and mobile data overages are all too easy to rack up. From data heavy apps to making sure you’re signed in to wifi, there are so many ways to use your mobile data more effectively.

  1. Restrict app background data:
    Did you know that your apps could be consuming your mobile data even when you’re not using them? Apps run in the background to update themselves, but this isn’t always necessary. Social media apps like Instagram or Facebook often burn a lot of data. If you go to the data usage section in your settings you can see the statistics for which app is consuming the most data.
  2. Make the most of free wifi:
    It has become increasingly common for cafes, shopping centres and even city councils to offer some sort of free wifi service. It may not be the fastest internet connection but it can be worth using to browse to your heart's content free of charge.
  3. Know the high data culprits:
    Not all apps chew through data at the same rate. Some high data apps to be mindful of are: Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, Instagram,Snapchat, Spotify and Twitter.
  4. Update apps when connected to wifi:
    By disabling automatic app updates, you can save huge amounts of data. You can do this on Android phones via the Play Store by heading to settings, then auto-update apps and then selecting auto-update apps over wifi only. For Apple users head to the settings menu and select iTunes and App Store. From there find Use Mobile Data and toggle off.
  5. Cut back on streaming:
    If you’re using your phone to stream data-hungry content like YouTube or Spotify then cutting down on streaming to save on data usage should be your first port of call. You can either download content to be watched later, restrict your streaming time to wifi only, or reduce the quality of your stream. Reducing the quality of your stream on YouTube for example will minimise the amount of data being used.
  6. Use data compression on chrome:
    Android users can save on data by heading to their chrome browser, opening the menu (find the three dots), selecting settings then data save, and toggling the option to On. Compressing your data routes your web browsing through Google’s proxy servers, feeding you smaller, more compressed bits of data and images - saving you more data.
  7. Offline maps:
    Did you know that you can download maps whilst connected to wifi? If you have a map downloaded to your device on Google Maps then it won’t be burning through precious data when you’re on the go. Downloading maps is not only handy when you’re on holidays, downloading a map of your own city is a good move - you’ll certainly put it to good use when you’re trying to get from A to B. To download a map head to the menu and then click on ‘Offline Maps’, from there you can select your own map with the area that you’ll need.
  8. Get your sync in order:
    Apps like Facebook and Google+ will automatically sync your files, videos or photos and hike up your data usage levels in the process. Switching off auto-sync settings for these apps can be a lifesaver. Auto-sync is automatically set to ‘on’ so you’ll have to switch it off in your settings. To do this head to your phone’s settings and click on Accounts, from there you can fine tune your sync settings for each app.

Take ‘Teatox’ BreaksWhen you take a little break from work or study, what do you usually do? If your answer is ‘pick up my phone and get scrolling’ you’re not the only one. Why not take a break and really switch off? Make a cup of tea or grab a glass of water and take some deep breaths. Taking breaks from technology can not only reduce data usage but stress levels as well.

How Can You Check Your Data Usage?

Knowing your data usage is a crucial step in managing your mobile phone account. Once you’ve informed yourself on which apps are using most of your data, you’ll be in a better position to set yourself limits or even switch phone plans entirely if you have the wrong data allowance
. change to "How to check your data usage will depend on the network provider you're with and the type of phone that you have. Follow the steps below to find out your data usage levels:

  • Check with your provider: If you want to know exactly how much data you’ve used this month it’s worth logging into your mobile phone provider’s app or web browser to find out. This a great way to prevent nasty bills at the end of the month!
  • Apple Phones: This will tell you how much data you've used since you got your phone or last reset the stats. On its own it's not very helpful in tracking monthly usage, which is why we recommend resetting the stats every month to coincide with your billing cycle.To see your data usage you’ll need to go to the settings app (look for the picture of silver gears) then select Mobile Data and scroll down to ‘Mobile Data’.
  • Android Phones: First you’ll need to find the settings app which is usually represented by the icon image of silver gears. Once you’ve clicked on the settings app click on ‘Data Usage’. From there you will usually be able to see the overall data used and also the data use of each app. We also recommend resetting these stats to coincide with your billing cycle.

What are KB, MB and GB?If you’re trying to make sense of your data usage, you may see the acronyms KB, MB or GB in your data usage section. But what do they actually mean? Put simply, they are units of digital information. Each unit is one byte. KB stands for kilobyte, which is made up of 1,000 bytes. MB stands for megabyte and is made up of 1,024 kilobytes and GB stands for gigabyte which is made up of 1,024 megabytes.

How Much Data Do You Need?

Mobile user with enough data

Whether you’re looking for a new mobile phone plan or hoping to switch providers, you won’t want to pay for more data than you’ll need. If you struggle to get your head around gigabytes and megabytes, we don’t blame you - the most important thing to know is how much internet use the standard amounts of data will get you.

Ofcom reported that consumers used a monthly average of 1.9GB of mobile data per active mobile subscription. It is reasonable to assume that an average of 1.9GB in data use covers many intergenerational segments of the population, with older people still tending to gravitate towards more traditional forms of communication like phone calls, and younger people relying heavily on services like Whatsapp.

How much data you need will really depend on what you use your phone for and how often you are connected to wifi. If you only use your mobile internet for sending the odd whatsapp message then you won’t need a high data allowance. If you’re streaming, downloading or spending a lot of time on social media on your mobile, however, you’ll need a data plan with a little more juice.

What you can do with your data will depend on a number of specific factors but we’ve put together an approximate guide to provide you with an idea of how much data some common tasks will cost you:

Data Task
30KB Sending a standard Whatsapp message
20MB 1 hour scrolling through Facebook
240MB Streaming or downloading one song
1GB Watch 10 half an hour episodes of TV on demand.
2GB Watch a full feature film with high definition (HD) quality.

Mobile Data Innovations: Rollover or Go Unlimited

Mobile phone with data rollover

Mobile phone providers need to give themselves a competitive edge in an almost saturated Telecoms market, and this no doubt extends to mobile data too.

Some providers now offer completely unlimited data plans like Vodafone and Virgin mobile. Other providers offer basically unlimited plans with a fair usage policy of 1000GB per month acting as a data cap, these include EE, SMARTY and Three. Giffgaff has also entered the high data plan arena with its ‘Always on’ plans, in which you’ll get high speed 4G data for the first 40GB, and after speeds will slow to 384kbits between 8am-midnight.

If you don’t need unlimited data but don’t want any data to go to waste, you might be interested in opting for a provider with a data rollover function. Where typically you would see any data allowance you don’t use disappear at the end of the month, data rollover features allow you to take the left over data into the next month. If you’re looking for data rollover on a pay monthly contract Sky Mobile and Virgin Mobile currently offer this. Pay As You Go data rollover is available from EE, O2 and Vodafone.

The services and products mentioned on this website may only represent a small selection of the options available to you. Selectra encourages you to carry out your own research and seek advice if necessary before making any decisions. We may receive commission from selected partner providers on sales of some products and/or services mentioned within this website. Our website is free to use, and the commission we receive does not affect our opinion or the information we provide.