The days of truly unlimited data are over. Verizon is hiking prices for customers who refuse to give up their “grandfathered” unlimited data plans. AT&T is forcing you to give up old unlimited data plans to take advantage of new features. It’s becoming more and more difficult to stick with an unlimited data plan unless you switch to Sprint or T-Mobile.
If you’re feeling the data pinch intimately, and you don’t want to switch carriers, it might be time to reconsider how you’re using your phone. Some small changes could prevent you from having to watch your data usage at the end of billing cycles and possibly save you some money in overage charges.
Some of these changes are common sense, but there are a few less obvious tips and tricks that will allow you to optimize your mobile data usage even more.
1. Turn off Wi-Fi Assist, iPhone users.
Wi-Fi Assist has good intentions, but it’s not the best solution for every one. Apple introduced the feature as a part of iOS 9 to allow users to automatically switch back to cellular data when Wi-Fi signals are poor or unreliable. While it is a nice feature, real-life usage has found it to be somewhat of a data hog.
CBS and several other news outlets reported that readers claimed that their data usage increased dramatically after installing iOS 9. While Apple has responded to the claims with a thorough description on how Wi-Fi Assist works on its support website, you still might find yourself using cellular data at times you weren’t planning to. To shut it off, open the Settings app, and tap “Cellular.” The option to disable Wi-Fi Assist is there.
2. Keep Wi-Fi on all the time.
You should always have Wi-Fi turned on, though — Wi-Fi Assist or not. While keeping it on does drain your battery faster, your smartphone will connect to Wi-Fi networks automatically when it is in range. If you’re an AT&T customer, your device will automatically connect to any of the company’s hotspots when you’re out and about, and Verizon has similar functionality.
I’ve even found my iPhone connecting to the public Wi-Fi networks while in Center City Philadelphia. Although municipal Wi-Fi networks aren’t as common these days anymore, it’s still transmitting and receiving data over something other than your data plan. And remember, every byte counts.
3. Keep an eye on your apps.
We typically only think about our applications when we’re using them, but quite a few of them run in the background, as DigitalTrends points out. In turn, these apps slowly eat up data, and when several apps are all working in the background this can add up. Ask yourself if every app you use needs to stay active in the background, and cut off those that don’t.
You’ll be able to find out which apps are using data in the background by going into your settings on either iOS or Android. In iOS, the list of apps is found under the “Cellular” menu, in Android under “Wireless & Networks > Data usage.” Limit background use to only the apps you definitely need to stay up to date. Changing this setting can improve your battery life, too!
4. Disable syncing in cloud and photo apps.
Services like iCloud and iCloud Photo Library are pretty neat since they’re syncing your content across multiple devices. At the same time, it’s sucking up a ton of wireless data too. iCloud isn’t the only offender: There are many other apps that will revert to cellular data if no Wi-Fi connection is available.
GottaBeMobile recommends that you look inside the settings of each cloud-based app to see if it has a setting of some kind for cellular data. Make sure this functionality is turned off so that it only syncs while you have a Wi-Fi connection.
5. Turn off autoplay in Facebook and Twitter.
We’ve already talked about how to turn off the autoplay feature for videos on social media websites in an earlier story here on Cheat Sheet. While our reasoning there was to prevent you from viewing content that you might find objectionable, it can also limit data usage. Follow the instructions we’ve included there to optimize your settings for these apps.
In addition, try to keep video viewing while on a cellular connection to a minimum. Can it wait until you get home? Streaming video is one of the biggest drains on mobile data: According to AT&T’s data calculator, just one hour of high definition video can chew through 1GB of your data plan.
6. Spotify? Apple Music? Use them offline.
Both Spotify and Apple Music are near the top when it comes to streaming music services. But are you aware that you can actually download those favorite tracks directly to your device? Both services allow for offline listening.
If you find yourself listening to a particular playlist on Spotify quite often, use the “Available Offline” option if it’s available to you, BuzzFeed recommends. The content will be downloaded to your device directly. The same option is available through Apple Music, where the option is called “Make Available Offline.”
Of course you’ll need a subscription to either service to use this functionality, but it will save a lot of unnecessary mobile data usage if you’re playing the same content over and over again.
Follow Ed on Twitter @edoswald