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Everything That Counts as Data Use on Your Phone

Know exactly what smartphone behavior constitutes data usage on your phone so you can avoid extra fees and data caps with this SmartMove guide.

Do you find yourself reaching your data limit before the end of your billing period? Don’t let your limited data plan stop you from staying connected to friends, family, colleagues, and entertainment. Whether you’re browsing the Internet, streaming video, or scrolling on social media, you’re using data. Understanding how much data you use and which activities are using the majority of data can allow you to keep a low-limit and less expensive data plan while enjoying all the benefits — or it could help you decide it’s time for an upgrade.

Data Usage Basics

Cell phone bills used to only contain charges related to the number of minutes spent on phone calls. With smartphones and instant access to the Internet, today’s monthly bills are mostly about how much data you’re using. Every time you use the Internet to do something on your phone, your monthly data meter goes up. Some apps and activities use more data than others, but in a nutshell, the types of mobile phone usage that rely on the Internet includes:

  • Checking email
  • Posting and scrolling on social media
  • iMessaging (for iPhones)
  • Using Google Maps and other GPS navigation
  • Browsing the Internet
  • Music streaming
  • Video streaming
  • Downloading and using mobile apps

When you’re connected to your cellular network, performing the above activities counts towards your data plan. If you’re connected to WiFi, however, this data usage does not get charged to your plan. When you’re at home browsing the Internet or streaming videos and watching Netflix on your devices make sure you are not using mobile data and are instead using a WiFi connection. You can save your home WiFi network’s password information in your phone so it connects automatically when you get home. If you’re worried that your home Internet speeds aren’t fast enough to keep all your devices connected, try our Internet speed test.

Track and Manage Your Data Usage

Before putting together a plan to reduce your current data usage or upgrade your plan, start by checking exactly how much data you’ve used in the current period. On an iPhone (iOS 14.0 and higher), you can find this under Settings→Cellular. Scroll down to the Cellular Data section, and you’ll see the amount of data used in the current period so far. On an Android device (4.0 and higher), you’ll go to Settings→Network & Internet→Data Usage.

Check App Usage

If you scroll down further in the data usage section of your settings, you should see a list of apps that tells you how much data each app is using in your current billing cycle. Take a look at which apps have been using the most data and decide if you might be able to reduce your usage of those particular apps. You can also restrict background data usage for certain apps. Most people are unaware that even when you are not using a mobile app it can still use cellular data while running in the background. Without you doing anything, your apps could be downloading updates, your email account could be syncing new messages, or your weather radar app could be using location services to send you a weather alert. Most cell phones give you an option to control which apps are able to use background mobile data, allowing you to pick and choose which apps to get regular updates from and which ones you could do without.

Check out this article on how to painlessly reduce your data usage for more tips with step-by-step instructions for iPhone and Android users.

Find the Right Cell Phone Plan for You

Sometimes putting limits on how much data you’re using means having to give up too much of the things you enjoy or really need to get professional or school work done every day. If this is the case for you, then it’s time to look into an unlimited mobile data plan. If you’re ready to break free from data caps, there’s a few things you will need to know first before shopping for a plan.

What to Know About Unlimited Mobile Data Plans

Not all unlimited data plans are created equal. While you won’t be dealing with pesky data overage charges anymore, you could experience a reduction in speed. Mobile plans with a set amount of data you can use each month guarantee usage at the highest speeds until you reach that cap. Once you go over that cap, your data usage will occur at slower speeds. 

With some unlimited mobile plans, you may also be subjected to a “deprioritization threshold.” This means during times of high network congestion, your data speed may be temporarily slowed depending on the plan you have. Sometimes these slow downs are barely noticeable and will pick right back up once there’s less traffic on the network. It’s always good to read the fine print before buying a new data plan.

Ready to shop for a new cellular data plan?

Let SmartMove help you find a mobile provider that’s right for you! SmartMove lets you compare carriers and plans side by side so you can quickly find the best cell phone plan available to you.

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