How To Make A Cheap Mobile Data Cap Last All Month Long

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If you're on a cheap mobile phone plan, there's a good chance your monthly data allowance is woefully inadequate. This can lead to huge bills at the end of the month if you don't keep close tabs on your usage.

Instead of switching off your mobile data completely (or downgrading to a basic phone), try following these simple data-stretching tips. With plenty of discipline and a bit of know-how you can make even the flimsiest of data plans go the distance.

Keep a data usage tracker on your home screen

Most telcos provide data tracking widgets that let you monitor your data consumption in real time. You can also download third-party apps that provide the same service: some solid examples include Onavo Count for Android, Data Usage for iOS and Data Usage for Windows Phone. In addition to ensuring you don't exceed your data allowance, this will also train you to be more frugal with your day-to-day usage: watching that bar fill up is like having the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head.

Always check for Wi-Fi!

It sounds criminally obvious, but you'd be surprised how often people neglect to use their phone's inbuilt Wi-Fi when a perfectly good connection is available. Whether you're at a McDonald's restaurant, in a hotel lobby or just sitting in the office, free Wi-Fi is often right under your nose - all you need to do is check. Utilising public Wi-Fi can drastically cut down on the amount of mobile data you get billed for each month (especially when it comes to software downloads). Telstra customers can also make use of Telstra Air.

Use an offline reading app

There are times when you really want to browse the internet without a Wi-Fi connection - the daily commute to work is one obvious example. Instead of eating into your data allowance each day, you can stockpile a bunch of articles and videos via offline reading apps like Instapaper and Pocket. These are essentially PVRs for the web which let you 'record' online media for later viewing. By using the app through a Wi-Fi connection, you can store a bunch of material for the train without using a single megabyte of your phone's data. You can also save web pages directly to most mobile browsers.

Cache maps

The ever-popular Google Maps can provide you with offline access to whatever maps you may want on hand. The offline access tool supports over 150 countries and can store up to six large metro areas. (GPS will still work without data, since it’s a separate connection, and you can navigate yourself anywhere within that saved area.)

Turn Off Notifications

Smartphone notifications are a great idea in theory — they alert you to everything from new emails and software updates to whether your latest Facebook "selfie" has received any fawning comments. However, they also encourage you to eat up more data by constantly diving into applications. This is especially noticeable with social networking apps — instead of checking once or twice per hour, you'll open the app every single time your post receives a new comment. Switching notifications off will remove this sick compulsion.

Limit photo uploads

Today's smartphones are capable of uploading photos directly onto social media sites in just a few finger taps. While this makes it easy to share images with your friends, it also encourages you to needlessly waste data. Frankly, nobody is going to care if your holiday snap takes a few hours to appear on Facebook. Resist the urge to insta-share and wait until you have WiFi to upload your photos.

Haggle for more data

When it's time to renew your contract, you can sometimes get your telecommunication provider to bolster your data allowance as an incentive to stick around; especially if you don't require a new handset but want to stay on the same plan. Telcos are extremely keen to retain customers so it can't hurt to ask! An extra gigabyte a month can go a long way.

This story has been updated from its original publication.



Comments

    I don't know if it's just me (on a Galaxy S3) but caching maps doesn't really seem to work effectively as an offline solution. At least the S3 comes with Navigon.

      I've never had a problem with caching map tiles on Google Maps (though admittedly not with an SGS3). That said, you DO need ac active data connection launch maps, even if you're in a pre-cached area.

    The wi-fi always worries me. I'd prefer to use more data than connect to an unsecured public network, unless you guys have a plan to update your Stay Safe with Public Wi-Fi article to reflect tablet and smartphone usage? I suspect I'm being unnecessarily paranoid on that front, but c'est la vie.

    The other thing I'd add is to turn off mobile data usage when you don't think you'll use it (like when you're driving). On both Android and iOS, I've found it relatively easy to switch it on and off, and it helps save a little on battery power, too.

      ... Why, afraid people will see you spend all day browsing lifehacker? xD

      This is about saving data - presumably because you can't afford as much data as you require. You might as well be saying to some kid somewhere "Oh, you've just gotten ADSL2? That's nice, i'm on the NBN."

      Last edited 30/05/13 9:23 pm

    This has been covered to no end in other articles, but for those on Android, both Chrome Beta and Opera both offer data compression - can't speak from experience with Opera's offering, but Chrome Beta does a surprisingly good job.

      They do proportionally well with text - but then, most people probably aren't downloading 500mb of text a month (that's a lot). When it comes to images and video, most third party compression services generally do so by degrading the quality - which is usually less than ideal.

      It all adds up though, but for me it just isn't worth the extra latency on what is already a long range wireless connection, especially when i'm out and about to save what is usually a net (overall) benefit of 4-5% less data downloaded.

      I used to use this when I had 20MB/mo back in the day (years ago). When I was getting close, I just turned off images altogether.

      Now I have 5GB/mo, so it doesn't affect me.

    I know there are apps that do this but why isn't disabling data while the phone the screen is off or no apps are using the internet connection not an OS setting ? Yeah some people want push so need a always on connection but only having the data setting activiated when required can save a ton of battery and you data.

      Because the same chip/radio handles your phone calls as your data in 99.9% of modern devices. So.. You turn it off, and get no calls..

      Seems less than ideal haha :P

      Last edited 30/05/13 9:19 pm

    Excellent article! Thank you.

    There is one more thing I would add to this list and that is to check for Wi-Fi by opening your browser on your phone.

    In a lot of situations I find that checking for a wifi network on my settings doesn't necessarily pick up the wifi service.

    But when I open my browser it brings in the automatic login/authorisation facility which we all have to agree to before using the Wi-Fi network.

    So when checking for wifi I'd always make it a point to browse the web and see what happens.

      That's quite common on a public/free network as they still need to know who is legally liable (you) for even a free connection.

      Your phone will still connect though, but some will show a slightly different icon, like a small question mark or alert overlayed on top of the regular signal level indicator.

    Do never ever try the speedtest app on mobile data when you are trying to save your data. I did it this morning (I had 150MB left) and it used 160MB.
    I now know that the speed is great :(

    Be careful with games/apps. Some games require always online and send data back and forth, and some have adverts that include videos which can eat up data. Also, check your settings for iTunes and uncheck the "automatic downloads" and "use mobile data" buttons, and then also check each individual app in the settings and uncheck the "mobile data" buttons if necessary, AND under the "Mobile" tab in settings (ios) check out all the settings there.

    If you know you aren't going to be doing anything with your phone for a while, or if you are really running low on quota for the month you can always put it in airplane mode, and then turn it off/on when you want to do something so you're only using data when you want to be using data.

    Last edited 18/02/17 7:24 pm

    I use a battery WiFi access point and I use my iPhone and iPad and the laptops to use the mobile WiFi.
    Usually cheaper than the phone's own data plan, say 5-10GB

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