Data allowances on mobile phones are more generous than ever, but the costs are still high compared to home broadband. We run down the basic tactics you can use to ensure that you don't suffer from a nasty case of bill shock.
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We've seen some notable improvements in data allowances on mobile phones in recent months; Telstra is planning to introduce shaping for contract customers, and the overall allowances, especially on contract plans but even to some extent on prepaid, have grown substantially. But risks remain. Plans which costs $2 a megabyte are still on the market, and with those kinds of expenditures you can quickly chew through your prepaid credit or get a nasty monthly bill. Here are some basic tricks to follow so you don't use more data than you need.
Find out what is included for free. Optus and Vodafone (and other companies which sell plans which use their networks) offer unmetered access to various social networking sites. Vodafone gives access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, MySpace; Optus offers all those options plus eBay. Note that getting these options for free generally presumes you'll access them via the phone browser; using a built-in app may not get the same (free) results.
Hunt down mobile-specific sites. When browsing, mobile-specific sites, which generally have fewer images, have two advantages: they'll load faster and chew through less of your data, and they're usually easier to read on a smaller mobile screen. Some sites (such as Lifehacker) automatically render in a mobile version; many others work if you use an m at the beginning of an address rather than www (hence m.abc.net.au, for instance). Bookmark the mobile versions of sites you visit regularly.
Consider a specialised mobile browser. We've frequently sung the praises of Opera Mini, which shrinks pages and images before sending them to your phone. If you want to minimise data usage, this is definitely an option to explore. (We don't recommend it for BlackBerry users, though; most BlackBerry plans in Australia include unlimited browsing if you use the official browser, but don't extend that to rival browsers.)
Connect your phone to home and office Wi-Fi. The vast majority of smartphones offer Wi-Fi as well as 3G, and it makes sense to connect to those networks and use them when you can. Aside from not chewing through your data allowance, you'll also generally get better performance. The one argument against using Wi-Fi is that it can chew through your battery faster, so make sure you switch it off when not in use. (We've got more specific tips on how to manage that for Android devices.)
Exercise some common sense. Even on good 3G networks, watching YouTube videos often isn't a very satisfactory experience, but it will still punch through loads of data. While modern phones are powerful, there are still some tasks which are worth keeping until you get back to a computer -- or at least until you're on a Wi-Fi connection.
What other tricks do you use to control mobile data usage? Tell us in the comments.
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