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How to Get Most Out of Your Mobile Data Plan

Learn how to understand, reduce, and save your mobile data usage

By Munmun Nath on January 16, 2018 | Reading time: 6 minutes


As per the 2017 Ericsson Mobility Report, a tremendous growth in mobile data traffic is expected by 2020, fuelled by video streaming and social networking. In the Philippines, mobile data is mainly used to access Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Viber, YouTube, and Instagram by smartphone users. Telecom companies such as Smart have reported significant business growth due to consumer mobile data usage. As per Smart, data revenues have already edged out voice calls and text messaging as the largest revenue source for the wireless business.

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 11.58.16 AM
    Source: dict.gov.ph

The Ericsson report says –  on average, users on the smallest plans (lower than 100MB) go well beyond their limits. More than 60 percent of users in this group exceed their data allowance by over 200 percent, consuming data almost in parity with users of medium-sized plans (up to 1GB). Users of small plans do not seem to feel bound by their small data bucket, but rather consume data on a “pay-as-you-go” basis.

Mobile data is expensive for many people around the world. A 2015 survey showed the cost of mobile broadband in the Philippines was among the most expensive in the ASEAN. We all use a variety of apps daily, but do we know how much data our activities are actually using? When we download an app it shows us its size, so we can see how much data we need for that. In most cases the data we consume we do so unknowingly. Sure, we know that watching a video on YouTube or scrolling through our Facebook feed requires data. But do we think about how much we are consuming while we are at it? Do we even know how much our activities use?

In most cases, we don’t and this might be the reason for us exhausting our plan limits. Therefore, in this guide, we show how by making simple changes in our data usage habits we can maximise our data plan and enjoy more online experiences.

1. Understand your data usage

Our mobile data consumption is determined by a number of factors such as –

  1. Device used (Phone, Tablet, or Mobile Wifi)
  2. Time spent browsing websites, such as news, shopping, blogging
  3. Type of websites browsed – image-heavy ones such as photo blogs consume more data
  4. Number of e-mails sent/received, with or without attachments
  5. Time spent on social media, streaming from sites such as Spotify, Youtube, Netflix, iTunes,  and internet-enabled apps such as Skype or Viber
  6. Usage of navigation apps such as Waze, Google Maps

While activities such as instant messaging consume much less data (~1 MB/hour), activities such as video streaming can consume high amounts of data (~3500 MB/hour). As per Smart, here is an estimate of data consumption of various mobile activities –

  Source: Smart Communications

1.1 Choose the Right Data Plan

Before choosing your data plan, identify which apps do you tend to use most frequently. Smart and Globe offer free VAS for commonly used social networking apps. For example, a Smart Postpaid Surf Plus or iPhone plan provides one value-added service or app for free, for one bill cycle. For other data usages, use tools such as SMART Data Calculator to find out how much data you are likely to use in a month and select your plan accordingly.

1.2 Regularly Monitor Your Data Usage

Once you have brought a data plan, you need to closely monitor your daily/weekly usage. Android devices usually have a Data Usage tracker, that also helps you set a data cap.

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                           Android data usage tracker

 

iPhone users can monitor their usage by going into Settings > Cellular. You can also enable or disable which apps on your phone should use Cellular data or Wifi only.

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                          iPhone data usage tracker

 

Also, many mobile apps are available to monitor data usages such as Onavo Count and Data Usage Monitor. Others include Datawiz, My Data Manager, dodol Phone, Net Counter, 3G Watchdog etc. Google has also launched a mobile data monitoring app called Datally, which in the in the Philippines is reported to have helped people save up to 30 percent on their data.

Most providers also send out messages when you’ve hit your data cap for the day. Smart Prepaid or Smart Postpaid subscribers can check the MB allocation left in their data promo by texting BAL to 2200. Globe users need to dial *143# on their Globe/TM mobile phone and select “MyAccount”, then “Mobile Internet Usage”.

2. Control your data usage

While browsing the internet, some applications can significantly eat into our data plan without even us knowing. One of the biggest culprit these days is Autoplay videos, which can be very annoying. What you may not know: We can limit auto-play videos to Wi-Fi only or disable them altogether. Also, both downloading and uploading content in HD with use significantly more data than in regular quality. We may believe that HD is so much better, however, on handheld devices, the difference between the two is marginal and be difficult to identify.

Here’s how you can adjust the settings for different apps so you can gain control of your data usage:

2.1 Facebook

For iPhone:

  • Open the Facebook app, tap the triple-line button in the lower-right corner and then tap ‘Settings’.
  • Select ‘Account Settings’ and then tap ‘Videos and Photos’.
  • De-select ‘Upload HD’ for Video Settings and Photo Settings.
  • Tap Autoplay and then choose either ‘On Wi-Fi Connections Only’ or ‘Never Autoplay Videos’.

For Android:

  • Open the Facebook app, tap the triple-line button in the upper-right corner, scroll to ‘Help & Settings’ and then tap ‘App Settings’.
  • De-select ‘Upload photos in HD’ and ‘Upload videos in HD’.
  • Tap Autoplay and then choose either ‘On Wi-Fi Connections Only’ or ‘Never Autoplay Videos’.
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                  Facebook autoplay settings (Android displayed, same for iPhone)

 

If you wish to limit your mobile data consumption, Facebook also has its ‘Facebook Lite’ app. This is a slimmed down version, designed for a better experience in slow networks. As for now, it is only available for Android.

2.2 Twitter

For iPhone:

  • Open the Twitter app, tap the Me button in the lower-right corner.
  • Tap the gear icon at the top of your profile page and select ‘Settings’.
  • Tap ‘Data usage’.
  • Tap ‘Video autoplay’ or ‘High-quality video’ and then select either ‘Wi-Fi only’ or ‘Never’.

For Android:

  • Open the Twitter app, tap the Me button in the upper-right corner and tap ‘Settings and privacy’.
  • Under General, tap ‘Data usage’.
  • Tap ‘Video autoplay’ or ‘High-quality video’ and then select either ‘Wi-Fi only’ or ‘Never’.
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                  Twitter autoplay and quality settings (Android displayed, same for iPhone)

2.3 Instagram

For iPhone:

  • Open Instagram, head to your profile page and open settings.
  • Tap ‘Cellular Data Use’.
  • Tap to turn on the toggle switch for ‘Use Less Data’. This setting won’t prevent videos from autoplaying, but it will stop Instagram from preloading video when you are on a cellular connection.

For Android:

  • Open Instagram, head to your profile page and tap the triple-dot button in the top right corner to open the options menu.
  • Scroll to ‘Settings’ and tap ‘Cellular Data Use’.
  • Tap to turn on the toggle switch for ‘Use Less Data’. This setting won’t prevent videos from autoplaying, but it will stop Instagram from preloading video when you are on a cellular connection.
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                  Data saving on Instagram (Android displayed, same for iPhone)

 

2.4 Youtube:

For iPhone:

  • Open the YouTube app, tap the account profile button in the upper-right corner and tap ‘Settings’.
  • Tap to turn on the toggle switch for ‘Play HD on Wi-Fi only’.

For Android:

  • Open the YouTube, tap the account profile button in the upper-right corner and tap ‘Settings’.
  • Tap on ‘General’.
  • Tap to turn on the toggle switch for ‘Play HD on Wi-Fi only’.
4
                 YouTube data saving settings (iPhone displayed on left, Android on right)

 

Similarly, you can change the settings of all your other favorite apps such as Netflix, Spotify, Snapchat etc to reduce their data usage.

3. Save your mobile data

3.1 Maximise usage of Public Wifi

  • Disable App Updates: Limit background data usage to public wifi so that app updates do not install features/new versions automatically on mobile data
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Disabling background updates (iPhone displayed on left, Android on right)

 

  • Read Offline – Web browsers such as the Chrome app allow you to ‘Read later’. Save your articles of interest using public wifi.
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                  Saving websites in Chrome (iPhone displayed on left, Android on right)

 

  • Disable Push notifications – If you are an iPhone user, in your ‘Settings’ enter ‘Notifications’, find the app you want to turn off notifications for and tap it.
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Disabling push notifications (iPhone displayed on left, Android on right)

3.2 Get Waze and Google Maps offline

If you regularly use Google Maps, you can save them offline on your device for future use (though these are automatically deleted from your Google account after 30 days).

google-maps-offline-screens
Saving maps in Google Maps (iPhone displayed on left, Android on right)

 

To access Waze offline, there are settings to automatically download your navigation routes, which ensures that access to maps in poor cellular service.

waze-101-download-routes-for-offline-use-android.w1456 (2)
                     How to access Waze offline (Source: smartphones.gadgethacks.com)

3.3 Stream songs and videos on low quality

If you are an avid video Youtube viewer or Spotify listener, there are two ways to limit your data usage – download the video using public wifi or reduce the resolution of the videos.

 

7
                  YouTube video quality settings and video saving (Android displayed, same for iPhone)

 

13
                 Spotify audio quality settings and offline mode (Android displayed, same for iPhone)

3.4 Enable “Reduce Data Usage” on Google Chrome.

Android users can use the Chrome Data Saver, that sends traffic first to Google servers that compresses data before downloading it.

If you do not have unlimited data plans, using these simple approaches can significantly reduce overspending on data. If you don’t need to worry about usage when you are in the Philippines, do remember to follow these tips when you are travelling aboard to save yourself from big international data bills –

  1. Turn Off Data Roaming
  2. Get yourself a Portable WiFi
  3. Use offline travel apps

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