8 min read

How to get the most from your mobile data

Andre Spiteri
9 June 2017

Whether you have an unlimited data plan or only use a small amount each month, it's worth knowing how to get the most from your data. Here are our top 5 tips to make the most of your allowance.

For most of us, mobile data has become an essential part of our phone contracts. So it's worth understanding where your data allowance is used, and how you can cut down on unnecessary usage. Here are 5 ways you can make sure you use your mobile data wisely.

1. Measuring your usage

According to Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer Survey 2016 most Brits pay a lot more than they have to for their mobile data. There are various reasons for this. However, it mostly boils down to this: many people tend to overestimate how much they need.

Understanding the jargon
Mobile data allowances are usually measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB). 1MB is made up of 1024 kilobytes (KB), while 1GB is made up of 1024MB. Data usage can vary wildly. However, broadly speaking, loading a standard web page tends to use about 0.5MB of data. At the other end of the spectrum, downloading a 3-minute song uses up about 5MB of data.

You can stop overpaying for data you don’t need quite easily. You just need to work out how much you actually use, as opposed to how much you think you use. Here are four ways you can do this:

  • Log on to the customer portal on your network provider’s website

Most network providers have data usage meters that tell you how much data you’ve used and how much is left on your monthly allowance.

  • Download your network provider’s mobile app

Again, most network providers’ mobile apps will give you an up to date picture of your current data usage.

  • Use a third-party data usage tracking app

Popular (and free) third-party data monitoring apps include Data Usage (available for both iOS and Android) and My Data Manager (also available for both iOS and Android). An app also called Data Usage (but made by a different developer) is available for Windows phones.

  • Check your phone’s settings

If you have an iPhone, you can check your monthly data usage by going to Settings>Mobile Data.

Helpful hint
Third party tracking apps also have extra features to help you stay on top of your data allowance. Many will allow you to set daily usage quotas or even predict how likely you are to exceed your allowance based on your current usage.

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2. Connect to WiFi whenever possible

You don’t have to depend entirely on your mobile data allowance to use the Internet on your phone.

The UK has an extensive network of free WiFi hotspots. By leaving the WiFi on your phone enabled, you can use public access WiFi whenever it’s available and revert to using your mobile data only if the connection drops or goes out of range.

Popular free public WiFi networks you can sign up for include The Cloud and O2 WiFi. In addition, many network providers and even home broadband providers offer their subscribers free access to premium WiFi hotspots.

Companies that offer complimentary public WiFi include BT, Sky, and Virgin Media. It’s worth checking if your broadband provider offers this service and setting it up on your phone. This is usually as easy as opening an online account (you’ll need your customer account number for this) and downloading an app.

Be careful with public WiFi
As convenient as it is, free public WiFi isn’t always completely secure, which could put your private information at risk.

You can keep your data safe by using a common sense approach:

  • Only connect to familiar hotspots (those whose names you recognise).
  • Keep your apps and operating system up to date. This ensures they’re always equipped to deal with the latest security threats.
  • Consider using a virtual private network (VPN).

3. Eliminate unnecessary usage

You don’t have to actively use your phone to eat into your data allowance. Some apps can keep working in the background, which uses up data even as your phone is in your pocket (or in your bag). You can cut down your data usage considerably by disabling two things: background refresh and push notifications.

Background refresh essentially allows apps to look for new content and get updated even while you’re not using them. Meanwhile, you receive push notifications to alert you whenever something specific happens in an app, for instance when a friend replies to one of your comments on social media.

Some apps - such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger - are arguably pointless without these features activated. However, they’re completely unnecessary for many other apps.

Instagram, for instance, sends alerts when someone you follow posts after a long time, which serves no other purpose than to encourage you to log on and use the app. In other words, it’s a waste of data. Chances are, you also have other apps on your phone that are doing the same thing.

4. Avoid performing data-heavy operations on 3G or 4G

As a rule of thumb, you should avoid performing operations that use up a lot of bandwidth using mobile data.

In particular, it’s a good idea to do app updates on your home WiFi connection, rather than when you’re on the go. These downloads can be in excess of 100MB, so they can eat up a large chunk of your mobile data allowance. They can also take time to complete, which can be an issue if the connection isn’t stable.

You can also reduce your data usage considerably by pre-downloading maps, favourite songs and large videos at home ahead of time instead of streaming them on your mobile data connection.

Helpful hint
Any data usage outside your monthly allowance is charged on a pay-as-you-go basis. Costs can vary quite a bit from provider to provider. Short of turning off your mobile data altogether, however, it’s usually cheaper to buy an add-on than it is to stay on pay-as-you-go. Your network provider should alert you when you’ve reached 80% of your allowance and again when you’ve used it all up.

5. Going abroad? Turn your mobile data off.

Don't assume you can use your monthly data allowance outside the UK. For most (but not all) networks, roaming charges will apply.

The vast majority of network providers tend to charge much higher rates when you use mobile data abroad. For this reason, be sure to turn off mobile data in your phone’s settings before you leave for your trip.

Most network providers offer data roaming packages. These tend to be more expensive than a domestic data package, but are usually far cheaper than using data on a pay-as-you-go basis at roaming rates.

Alternatively, if your phone is unlocked, you could potentially save a lot of money by buying a local SIM and data allowance when you arrive at your destination.

by Andre Spiteri

Andre is a former lawyer turned financial writer. Andre has written this article especially for ClearScore.

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