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How to check and monitor your mobile data usage

If you find yourself running out of data before your monthly refresh, or being charged extra for exceeding your allowance, it’s important to learn how to monitor your mobile data usage so that you can stay within budget. Find out how in our guide below. 

What is mobile data?

Mobile data is a type of technology that allows you to access the internet on your smartphone when there is no Wi-Fi available to connect to. It is mostly used when people are out and about, like shopping or commuting, but some users may use their mobile data at home if their Wi-Fi is poor or if they have unlimited data.

3G and 4G (known as the ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ generation of data technology) are the most common speeds on smartphones at the moment, but 5G is making its appearance across several handsets. 

Why should I check and monitor my mobile data usage?

Many of us have plans or bundles with tariffs that have limited data allowances each month. You may be capped at 1GB or 50GB, depending on your deal. 

Whatever your data allowance, staying on top of monitoring your usage can benefit you in many ways:

  • You’ll gain a better understanding of how much you use, which will guide you in choosing the best bundle for you
  • You’ll know if you need to upgrade or downgrade your current bundle
  • You’ll avoid incurring additional charges for exceeding your allocated usage 
  • You’ll save money by only paying for exactly what you need

How to monitor your mobile data usage

Most smartphones have an option in Settings to show you how much data you’re using, and which apps and actions are responsible for draining it the most. 

To find data usage on an iPhone

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Mobile Data
  3. Scroll down to see how much data each application is using in MB or GB 

To find data usage on Android

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Network & Internet
  3. Go to Data usage
  4. Under Mobile, you’ll see how much mobile data you’re using up in total
  5. Go to Mobile data usage to see how much data each application on your Android is using 

Alternatively, swipe down to show your Quick Settings. If enabled, you'll see your daily and monthly data usage here.

Screenshot of Android Quick Settings, showing daily and monthly data usage Screenshot showing Android data usage Screenshot showing Android data usage by app

If you’re an Asda mobile customer, you can find out how much data you’ve used from your bundle by logging into your online account.

What uses up data?

If you’re not connected to Wi-Fi, many of the following activities will use up your mobile data to function. This can drain your allowance to the point of running out before your monthly refresh, particularly if you’re watching films or on FaceTime, as these tasks ask a lot of your phone. 

  • Social media - Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Tumblr, and Twitter use up mobile data to post, refresh, send videos and pictures, and more
  • Streaming music - Spotify and iTunes use data when downloading songs and streaming music
  • Streaming videos - YouTube and Netflix take up a lot of data, depending on the video quality. The higher the quality, the more mobile data you will use
  • Browsing the internet - whilst web browsing is the least data-intensive activity, you can still use up a considerable amount of your allocated data if you spend multiple hours checking emails, browsing websites, and reading online

How to reduce mobile data usage 

There are a number of ways you can reduce your mobile data usage to stay within your allowance.

Connect to Wi-Fi whenever possible

Perhaps the most obvious solution: connect to Wi-Fi whenever possible. 

You will probably have Wi-Fi at home, but what about if you’re out and about? Some buses and trains offer free Wi-Fi access while commuting, and many cafes also allow customers to connect their devices. 

However, you should be aware of the risks of connecting to open Wi-Fi routers in public, and know how to keep your smartphone safe online

Only download and update on Wi-Fi

Similarly, if any of your applications need updating, wait to do this until you’re connected to Wi-Fi. Installing apps and updating them can drain significant quantities of mobile data. 

Additionally, only download things on Wi-Fi, and make sure you have your downloads ready ahead of trips. So if you’re going on a long journey, download your Netflix episodes or films beforehand, so you can watch them offline without using up any data. Do the same thing with songs, audiobooks, or podcasts - download them on Spotify or whatever platform you use beforehand, and enjoy without the fear or wasting data. 

Stop apps from using data

In Settings under Mobile Data, you can actually choose which applications are allowed to use mobile data and which are barred from it. This will stop applications from using mobile data up in the background. 

Set a data limit

You can set a data limit on your Android to restrict your phone so it doesn’t use up any more mobile data than you allow.

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Data Usage
  3. Go to Billing Cycle
  4. Go to Data limit and billing cycle
  5. From here, you can set a maximum amount of data to use each month. Align this with your plan to ensure you never exceed what you’re paying for
  6. You can also ask your Android to disconnect from mobile data once the limit has been reached 

Unfortunately, this feature isn’t available on iOS at the moment. 

Use GPS for navigation

If you’re using your smartphone to navigate, you could risk draining all of your mobile data in a single trip! 

Turn on Location services in Privacy under Settings so that Google Maps (or a similar navigation app) can find your location, then enter your desired destination. 

Once the route has been confirmed, press Start and then turn your mobile data off. Most navigation apps will continue giving out driving instructions as long as the route was confirmed before you switched off your data. Just keep in mind that if you happen to go the wrong way, your app won’t be able to recalculate your route. 

Turn off autoplay

If you’re watching YouTube on your phone, disable autoplay so that it doesn’t continue on to the next video, thus using up a lot of your mobile data (particularly if your phone is in your pocket and unknowingly doing this). 

On YouTube, find the Settings icon (a grey cog) and slide the Autoplay next video switch to off. 

Install an ad blocker

Here’s a neat little trick - install an ad blocker to save you data. They will stop image and video ads from loading when you’re browsing the internet, meaning there’s no risk of an auto-playing video destroying your allowance. 

Data monitoring apps

Download and install a data monitoring app on your smartphone to better understand your usage. These types of apps will often send you alerts so you stay on top of how much data you’re using on various activities. Here’s a couple you could try out:

For iPhones - Data Usage

  • Monitor data usage in real time
  • Predictive forecast shows you when you might go over your limit
  • Set usage alerts to get you off in time
  • Colours used to reflect your usage status
  • Export history of data usage
  • Use the Today Widget to show cellular data as a notification on your home screen 

For Android - My Data Manager

  • Monitor data on mobile, Wi-Fi, and roaming
  • Set custom usage alarms
  • Track mobile usage on certain applications
  • Export history
  • Track background refreshes that can use up data unknowingly 
  • See how many times a day an app is being used 

To stay up to date on the latest tips and tricks, follow us on Twitter and check out our other helpful guides.

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