Staying ahead of your mobile Internet bills

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Next to an incredible processing power, smartphones and tablets nowadays sport an impressive array of connectivity features aimed to provide its users with around-the-clock information from the web. Most current smartphones have become so seamlessly integrated with Internet that, except for making phone calls and sending text messages, most of the things you do on these mobile devices will involve the transmission of Internet data. If you’re not careful enough, this can get quite expensive. With this handy guide you’ll be able to stay ahead of your monthly Internet bills and still enjoy all of the features of your mobile devices.

 

Going beyond your limits

Before trying any of the listed tricks, however, the first step would be to find out what’s the monthly data allowance of your contract. Mobile data plans often range from as little as 100 MB to 2 GB per month. It’s important to be aware of those limits since your 3G network provider will charge an additional fee for any data that you spend outside of your Internet allowance.

If you casually browse the web and don’t use social networks or watch videos online very often, then tariffs with 500 MB of data will be quite sufficient. However, the more serious you are about exploring all of your smartphone’s features, the more there’s risk of running out of your allowance.

A way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to choose Pay As You Go. The advantage of this plan lies in that you will know exactly how much you’re spending, and there’s no risk of going over your monthly limit. Convenient as that might sound, heavy Internet users who find using a lot of mobile bandwidth would likely be better off with contracts that have no data limits. However, it would be advisable to double-check the so called ‘unlimited’ and ‘all-you-can-eat data’ monthly contracts before singing up. It’s not too uncommon when there are hidden usage policies that allow a network provider to severely limit the speed or even cut off your connection once you have exceeded a certain amount of data.

 

So what do these numbers actually mean?

Every time you connect to the Internet to pull new information, you use data. The amount of data transferred can vary drastically depending on certain online oriented tasks. Below we list a few typical examples with data estimates taken from Three’s website:

• Visiting a website uses less than 1MB of data
• A four minute song uses about 6MB
• A five minute YouTube video could use up to 15MB
• Watching iPlayer for an hour uses about 700MB

It’s important to underline here that these figures are in no way universal for everyone. While opening a simple webpage might indeed take around 1 MB of data, some content rich sites usually require a few extra megabytes more. It’s also difficult if not impossible to give an exact number because of the sheer diversity of smartphones – different screen resolutions, different versions of software etc. As a general rule, the better equipped the smartphone is, the more Internet-heavy its use is expected to be.

It goes without saying, but you should also check with your network provider’s website for the most accurate information regarding your contract. Many network providers also have their respective apps available for download that will enable you to check on your account’s balance and allowances right from your phone.

 

Ways to optimise your mobile data usage

Below we’re going to discuss the various ways you can avoid exceeding your mobile Internet allowance. Some of the points are more convenient than others, but all of them will help you stay ahead of your monthly Internet bill in no time:

• Disabling Mobile Data access. While this is a radical step, disabling mobile Internet connectivity might be a good temporary solution when you’re about to cross your monthly data limit. In this mode, you will still be able to access the online features of your mobile device using a WiFi connection. For iOS devices, you’ll need to go to Settings → General → Network, and from there, switch off the ‘Mobile Data’ menu option.

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With Android phones and tablets, the exact path might vary. Generally speaking, you should find the necessary option by going into Settings → Wireless & Network settings → Mobile network, and uncheck the data connection tab.

• Switch to WiFi wherever possible. This is especially advisable because the data transferred using WiFi does not count towards your monthly mobile Internet bill, which is usually more costly than your home broadband connection. Most current smartphones can switch between a mobile and WiFi connection automatically when they are in range of a known wireless network. If you own an iOS device, go to Settings → Wi-Fi to ensure that the right wireless access point is being used.

On Android phones, simply go to Settings → Wi-Fi connection and check whether the phone has all the necessary credentials, and that the auto-connect option is also enabled.

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• Turn off Auto-Sync. Modern smartphones and tablets are designed from the ground up to be always online. They will periodically synchronise your mailboxes, refresh your social networking and RSS news feeds and update your weather forecast information – and that’s not counting all the other apps that might be running in the background. While it’s very convenient to have many of these trivial tasks done for you, with 3G mobile networks the Internet bill can creep up on you unnoticed.

You can disable the automatic synchronisation of online services on Android devices by going into Settings → Accounts & Sync, and switching off the ‘Auto-sync’ option. That way, you will only allow Internet access to the applications and services that you are momentarily using, so it becomes considerably easier to stay in touch with your daily Internet expenses. Alternatively, you can disable this option for individual services only, leaving the less data intensive services running as normal (as pictured below).

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For Android phones and tablets you should also disable the auto-update option found in the settings of Google Play. That way, you’ll remove the risk of your Android device updating a dozen of apps using a 3G mobile connection without you even noticing it. On latest Android phones, there’s also a useful option to restrict automatic app updates to a WiFi connection only.

To conclude here, there’s also an ample selection of homescreen widgets that will help you speed up the process of switching between various connectivity related settings on your Android device.

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• Surf mobile optimised websites. Although modern phones are fully capable of handling most websites without any problems, it does involve a tremendous amount of data expenses. Mobile optimised versions of websites are specifically designed to be as light as possible by getting rid of most of the data intensive visual elements. Often you can find links to mobile versions of the sites at the very top or bottom of the page that you can then bookmark, or you can try typing ‘m’ before the name of the website, for example www.m.bbc.co.uk .

• Use RSS-Newsreaders. There’s a myriad of different RSS readers available in mobile app stores, and they will not only help you save time looking for stories that interest you, but will also save you precious mobile bandwidth. Functional RSS newsreaders, like ‘Reeder’ on iOS or ‘gReader’ on Android, also support ‘offline caching’ feature, which means you can download text and images using WiFi at home, and then read the articles while travelling to work without having to use 3G mobile connection.

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• Use data traffic monitor apps. These apps are there to help you keep track of your mobile Internet expenses and are especially useful when you’re roaming abroad. ‘Onavo Count’, available for Android devices only at the moment, stands out with a list of many helpful features. Besides automatically warning you when you’re nearing your data cap, ‘Onavo Count’ will also monitor individual app data usage and help you quickly identify the biggest culprits on your Internet expenses. It also comes with a homescreen widget that displays real-time information about the apps that use mobile data.

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‘My Data Manager’ is also free, but available for iOS as well as Android phones and tablets. Setting up the app is a breeze, and it comes with a swipe-friendly, easy to navigate user interface. Besides the standard data monitoring features, the app also provides a lot of useful information in the form of interactive data graphs.

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Although third party apps are more accurate, you might find the built-in features on your smartphone sufficient for monitoring your data usage. You can access the information on your iOS device by going into Settings → General → Usage → Mobile Usage. You will, however, need to remember to manually reset this information every month by hitting the ‘Reset Statistics’ button.

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• Smartphones that are running Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ or newer updates have a surprisingly robust data monitoring application already built-in. The exact path may vary, but usually the ‘Data Usage’ app can be found in ‘Wireless & networks’ section in your phone’s settings. From there you can check how much data individual applications are using, and also configure the system to automatically disable 3G data connection when you’ve reached a certain limit.

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Things to avoid when using mobile Internet

These online activities involve a large transmission of data, and should be generally avoided if you’re on a strict data plan:

• Uploading content to the cloud. Sharing pictures or other kind of media on social networks, or uploading files to ‘cloud services’ e.g. Dropbox, SkyDrive or iCloud.
• Streaming or downloading music or video content. Online services like YouTube, even when you use their mobile optimised versions, will quickly soak up all of your available data allowance. Same warning applies to popular destinations for online music like iTunes, Last.fm or Spotify.
• Using VoIP (voice-over-IP) services such as Skype or Google Talk. The video call feature in particular is very taxing towards your mobile data allowance, so it’s best enjoyed using a WiFi connection.
• Tethering allows you to share your mobile Internet connection with other devices. This feature is extremely useful as a backup source of Internet in the event when your home broadband connection is down. However, great care should be taken when sharing the connection with devices like laptops and desktop computers that are not inherently optimised to conserve data the same way mobile phones or tablets do.

 

And finally…

Taking the above precautions will not only help you keep your mobile Internet expenses in check, but they will also allow you to considerably prolong the battery life of your smartphone or tablet. And remember – everything starts with picking a contract and data plan that best suits your mobile needs.

(This feature, written by me, was originally posted  on Fonehouse)

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