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Most people don’t know how much data they use in a regular month. This might make it hard to assess how much you really need to have on your cell phone plan. The easiest way to figure out how much you use is to check with your current carrier or directly on your phone.
On iPhone, go to Settings – Cellular and it will show your cumulative usage from the time you activated your phone. If you want to track usage from a specific date, you need to Reset Statistics. On Android, it’s a bit more straightforward; go to Settings – Data usage to see total usage for a given date range.
If you’re a US Mobile customer, you can just sign into your account to get an instant overview.
Once you know how much you use, you should know that your decisions on how you’re using your phone will impact the data usage.
Does a Faster Internet Use More Data?
The big question is, will faster internet speeds use more data? Technically no but logically, and in reality, yes. First of all, doing the identical thing on a slow vs a fast network will use the exact same amount of data. Downloading a 200MB photo will always require 200 MB. However, the faster the speed, the quicker you can complete a task such as downloading or uploading a file. That means that you’re able to do more, and consume more data, in the same amount of time if you have fast speeds. You naturally do more and probably use higher quality streaming.
When you increase internet speed it will also increase the speed of consumption of background data. For example, while browsing videos on You Tube you might not watch the full video. If the data download speed is fast, the entire video will be buffered despite the fact that you only watched parts of it. Had the Internet speed been slower, it would not have downloaded that extra unwatched part of the video. This also means that when you click on a web page, and the speed is fast, the whole page will be instantly loaded including graphics and widgets. You will, therefore, download a larger page than what you would have if your internet was slow. If you had a slower internet, you might also give up on a page sooner and automatically the total download would have been smaller.
So even if the faster network, per se, don’t use more data, the change in your consumption and larger page loads will lead to you using more.
Adjust Quality on Your Streaming Apps
If data were cookies, apps providing some kind of streaming service, are the cookie monsters. Usage, of course, varies by app and streaming quality. The rule of thumb is that the better quality (higher resolution), the more data you’ll use.
But you have the power to limit quality to use less of your plan. On Netflix, for instance, you have the option to only stream when you’re on WiFi, which means that you never use your mobile plan. Other usage settings are as follows:
- Auto – stream to the highest quality depending on your internet speed (~3 hours per GB).
- Low – stream 4 hours per GB.
- Medium – stream 2 hours per GB.
- High – stream 1 hour per GB.
- Unlimited – if you don’t have an unlimited plan, you should forget about this option as it’s about 20 min of watching per GB.
Most streaming apps let you make choices about quality which will impact your data usage. So make sure you check what options you have for your favorite apps.
Watch Out for Data Throttling
Finally, you should make sure that you’re aware of any data throttling going on. Throttling is when a carrier intentionally slows down your upload and download speed. Cell phone carriers often slow your cell phone data to dial-up speeds once you go over your monthly plan. For instance, you have 3GB and you’re streaming an Amazon Prime video. It’s working fine until you hit your max usage of 3GB and then you’ll just see an endless loading wheel. You might still be able to access some sites, but it will take a long time to load. You might also be hit with overage charges for using more than the plan you’ve subscribed to. Basically, make sure you get what you (think) you’re paying for.