Mobile networks are keen to emphasise the generosity of the data allowances they provide to their pay-monthly customers.
Yet many people consume a surprisingly small amount of data during a typical month.
As a result, it’s often far cheaper to acquire mobile devices on a SIM-only deal.
There’s no point paying for 10GB of data every calendar month if you work from home, or if daily commutes are spent playing the latest Candy Crush variant.
So how can you estimate likely monthly usage when selecting a SIM-only deal?
How to measure mobile data consumption
Firstly, it’s helpful to know exactly how much data you’ve consumed recently.
Smartphones keep detailed logs of historic data usage, which can be checked with a few taps of the screen:
On an Android handset, go to Settings > Connection > Data Usage. If you want to see which apps are consuming the most megabytes, select the Mobile Data Usage sub-menu.
On an iPhone, go to Settings > Mobile Data, where each app’s data usage will be displayed under the Current Period Roaming section. This doesn’t include data sent over WiFi, but it does give an accurate steer on where each megabyte of mobile data is going.
The hidden consumers of mobile data
Although text messages don’t count as part of data allowances, photo messages are rarely included in standard plans and do use up data.
Annoyingly, some handsets automatically convert emojis to photo messages – inadvertently draining data allowances.
Streaming media represents another big drain on mobile data, with the Periscope video streaming service frequently requiring up 250MB per hour.
Online gaming is an equally voracious consumer of data allowances.
Before installing new apps, do a quick online search for typical data usage – and consider whether you really need to access these programs on the move.
How to reduce mobile data consumption
The above issues clearly only apply when a device is connected to a 4G network.
You can send and receive unlimited volumes of data through WiFi connections, completely free of charge.
These are our tips for minimising monthly data footprints:
- Adjust the permissions for non-essential apps, so they won’t stealthily munch through data without your knowledge
- Don’t use streaming services like Spotify and YouTube while out and about. It’s possible to download most content for offline viewing, from MP3s and podcasts to Netflix series
- Keep your WiFi turned on, and ask friends and family for their home hub passwords. It’s easy to plough through data while sitting opposite a perfectly good wireless hub
- Prevent apps or programs updating unless your device is connected to WiFi. Operating system revisions are notoriously bandwidth-hungry
- Disengage superfluous bloatware. For instance, Samsung Galaxy users constantly receive news updates via Samsung’s Upday service, which are rarely essential
- Automatically resize images before uploading or emailing them. The high-res originals will be retained, but copies are compressed to as much as 10% of their former size.