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5 easy ways to reduce your mobile data consumption

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With smartphones becoming ever more sophisticated and with applications requiring more and more data, it’s never been more important to keep a close eye on your data consumption. In this article, we’ll show you how to track your data consumption. We’ll also highlight five easy ways for reducing your data usage.

 

1. Monitor your data usage and set up warnings for heavy usage.

 

Before trying to reduce your data consumption, it’s worth spending a couple of moments to first find out how much data you’re consuming. For members on giffgaff, this is super-easy: log in to my giffgaff and you’ll see your remaining allowances for the rest of the month (e.g. if you started with 1GB and you have 400MB left, then you’ve used 600MB since the start of your goodybag).

 

It’s also useful to know how much data has been used by each app. Most modern smartphones now have a built-in tracking tool where you’re able to see data consumption on an app-by-app basis:

 

  • iPhone: Providing you have iOS 7 or later, you can go to Settings > Cellular to see a breakdown of data usage. The data usage figures are measured since you last reset the counter. Hence, it’ll probably show all-time data usage rather than the exact amount of data used in the current month. Despite this limitation, the figures are helpful in working out which applications consume the most data.

  • Android: On handsets running Android 4.0 or later, you can check your mobile data consumption through Settings > Data usage. The top-half of the screen shows a graph of data consumption over the current month. Scrolling down, you’re able to see a breakdown of usage on an app-by-app basis.

  • Windows Phone: On Windows Phone 8.1, you can view the data consumption for each application by opening the Data Sense application that’s included on the phone.

Monitor Data Usage
The iPhone, Android and Windows Phone operating systems allow you to see data consumption on an app-by-app basis.

 

It’s well worth spending a bit of time to find out which applications are using a lot of data. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll then be able to reduce data consumption in a targeted and effective way.

 

On Android and Windows Phone, you‘re also able to set up data usage warnings (e.g. so you’ll get an alert when you reach 80% of your monthly download limit). This “early warning system” can give you a heads up so you’re able to cut back and make the download allowance last longer.

 

2. Avoid streaming online video on 3G or 4G.

 

Video AppsBy far, the most data-intensive activity on smartphones today is streaming online video over a mobile internet connection. Common applications which use video streaming technology include YouTube, Netflix, iPlayer, 4oD, Sky Go and Amazon Instant Video.

 

As a very rough estimate, watching an hour of online video will use between 300MB and 700MB of your mobile data allowance (that’s somewhere in between 0.3GB and 0.7GB of your monthly download limit). By reducing your online video streaming on 3G and 4G, you can very quickly reduce data consumption and you can make your monthly allowance go a lot further.

 

To reduce your data consumption when watching online video:

 

  • Connect to wi-fi whenever it’s possible. You can save on precious mobile data by connecting to wi-fi before watching online video. You’ll then be able to keep your data allowance for more important things (e.g. rather than watching a 5 minute video on 3G or 4G, you can instead send 10,000 messages on WhatsApp or you can surf the internet for more than an hour).

  • Download videos to your phone before you leave home. On certain applications (e.g. BBC iPlayer for iPhone and Android), you can download videos for viewing offline. It’s a great way of saving data: you download programmes using wi-fi at home and you’re then able to watch them out-and-about without using data. Downloading your programmes over wi-fi at home will also give you much smoother playback (no more buffering) and will also extend the battery life of your phone. After download, you’ll have 30 days to watch programmes on iPlayer.

    iPlayer Offline Viewing
    With BBC iPlayer, you can download programmes over wi-fi for viewing later on.

  • Reduce the quality of videos you watch. If you really need to stream online video on 3G or 4G, reducing the quality of the video can save you substantial amounts of data (SD-quality video tends to use less than half as much data as HD-quality video).

    On YouTube, you can force your phone to only use SD-quality video when connected to mobile internet. To do this, tap the “…” button on the top-right corner of the app followed by Settings > General. Tick the option to “Limit mobile data usage – Only stream HD video on Wi-Fi”.

    YouTube Reduce Data Consumption
    There’s an option in the YouTube application to “only stream HD videos on Wi-Fi”.

    For users of Netflix, you can follow the instructions here to reduce the quality of videos (it involves logging in and changing a setting on the Netflix website).

Besides saving you a large amount of data, there are multiple other reasons to watch video on wi-fi. They include much better battery life and smoother video playback. Switching to wi-fi is also good for other members of the network: one person streaming HD-quality video will consume the same amount of resources as 500 people simultaneously making a phone call.

 

3. Use less data when browsing the internet.

 

Browsing and Social Media AppsWeb browsing and social networking websites are also significant contributors to mobile data consumption. Today, the average mobile web page is more than 1MB in size (three years ago, it was less than half a megabyte). This means you can quickly use up a large amount of data when browsing the internet.

 

There are several ways to use less data when surfing the internet:

 

  • Use website compression software (e.g. Chrome or Opera Mini). Rather than downloading full-quality webpages that can be more than a megabyte in size, certain bits of software allow you to download a compressed version of the web site which can be up to 90% smaller. The website will normally be proxied through a third-party server (here, images will be reduced in quality and the web page will be reduced in size).

    Popular solutions for website compression include Google Chrome and the Opera Mini browser (see our full review of web browsing apps). Onavo Extend (a free app for iPhone and Android) is another solution: it compresses data from all your applications rather than only the data from the smartphone’s browser.

    If you’re currently using the Google Chrome browser, you can turn on the website compression feature by pressing Menu followed by Settings > Reduce data usage. Change the toggle to the On

    Chrome - Reduce data usage
    The Google Chrome browser has a built-in feature to reduce the size of web pages.

  • Disable video auto-play in the Facebook application. Since September, Facebook has played videos automatically in their mobile application. The feature has occasionally pushed people over their monthly download limit (the videos are downloaded automatically as you scroll through your news feed).

    In order to save data, it’s a good idea to disable the video auto-play feature.

    On Facebook for iPhone, tap More followed by Settings > Videos and Photos. Under video auto-play, either the option for “wi-fi only” or “never play videos automatically”.

    On Facebook for Android, tap the menu button followed by App Settings > Video Auto-play. You should then choose “wi-fi only” or “Off”.

    Facebook Disable Autoplay
    To save data when using the Facebook application, disable video auto-play in the News Feed.

  • Disable video auto-play in Instagram. Like Facebook, Instagram will also play videos automatically as you scroll through the news feed. You can save data by turning off the auto-play feature (you can still watch videos but you’ll need to tap them before they play).

    To disable video auto-play in Instagram, tap your profile icon followed by the “…” or the Settings icon in the top-right hand corner. On iPhone, change the “preload videos” option to “only on wi-fi”. On Android, tap Cellular Data Use > Use Less Data.

    Instagram Disable Autoplay
    Turning off video auto-play in Instagram can also help you to save mobile data.

4. Control the background data usage of your applications.

 

Many people are often surprised about apps consuming data even when they’re not actively being used. This is known as “background data usage”: it’s when applications download data in the background – often silently and automatically without input.

 

Background data is a useful feature for keeping information up-to-date without you manually needing to press a button (e.g. a weather application will always have the latest forecast and your phone book will always have the latest contacts).

 

Although background data is normally a useful feature, it can sometimes be unwanted (e.g. when rarely-used apps update themselves in the background and use up your precious allowance of data). For this reason, it can be highly worthwhile to disable background data for certain applications. On iPhone, you can do this through Settings > General > Background App Refresh. On Android, you can find the background data option by tapping an application in the Data Usage monitor.

 

Disable Background Refresh
For apps that you only rarely use, turn off “background app refresh” or use the option to “restrict background data”.

 

5. Listen to music offline & radio through an FM broadcast.

 

Radio AppsAfter video, the second most data-intensive activity is often listening to online music or listening to online radio. This is often achieved using applications such as Spotify and Google Play Music.

 

  • Make your playlists available offline. On Spotify, Google Play Music and other streaming applications, you can save substantial amounts of data by making your playlists available offline. Simply tap the “download” or “available offline” option before heading out on a journey and whilst you’re still connected to wi-fi. You'll need a subscription to the service to use the offline listening feature.

    Spotify and Play Music - Offline Listening
    Before heading out on a journey, be sure to download your playlists for listening offline.

  • Listen to FM radio rather than online radio. Traditional old-school radio uses FM technology (unlike online radio, FM doesn’t require you to have an internet connection). On smartphones that support it, listening to FM rather than online radio can save you data and can extend your phone’s battery life (see our review of the top radio applications).

    FM Radio App
    Listening to FM radio doesn’t use data.

Your Thoughts…

 

For many of us, we’re now using more mobile data than ever before. With smartphone applications becoming ever more data-hungry, it’s important to keep an eye on how much data your phone is using. Sometimes, it’s important to take action to reduce data usage (especially if you’ve had a warning about using too much data).

 

In this article, we’ve shared five easy ways to reduce your mobile data consumption. Do you regularly track the data consumption on your phone? Do you have any top tips for saving mobile data you’d like to share with other members? We’d love to hear your thoughts… please drop us a comment below and let us know what you think!

 

Ken Lo writes about mobile technology and the mobile industry at Ken's Tech Tips.

46 Comments
newcomer

Thanks for that, all new to me and very helpful.

 

trainee

This is exactly the information I was looking for, very helpful. Even though I have the 'always on' data plan it's still helpful to know e.g when buying cheaper goodybags with small data allowances, thanks Kenlo.

 

newcomer

Here I give you the new way to reduce the mobile data consumption on Spotify with TuneFab Spotify Music Converter. It is useful and powerful for having a try!

newcomer

Thank you - haven't learnt so much useful stuff so quickly for a long time.

newcomer

That was pretty useful tbf, there were a couple settings that I had no idea about. So thanks for that bit of info. Smiley Happy

newcomer

Thank you Ken: you've set out to coverr all the bases on this subject