How Much Data Are You Using?

By Fraser Sherman

The average smartphone user in 2011 used 435 megabytes of data a month, while the top 1 percent used more than 4.6 gigabytes, according to the Nielsen Company. If your plan isn't adequate for your data use, you pay extra for exceeding the cap; if you buy a bigger plan than you need, you're wasting money. Whether you're on Android, iPhone, Windows Phone or BlackBerry, knowing your rate of data use is essential to choosing the right plan and budgeting your data use.

iOS

Step 1

Tap your iPhone's "General Settings" and tap on "Usage." This shows you, among other statistics, the amount of data you've sent and received since you last reset your phone. Tap "Reset Statistics" to set the amounts to zero if you want to start the dating-tracking over.

Step 2

Write down how you use your data -- how much streaming video you watch, how many emails you send -- and compare it to AT&T or Verizon's online calculator. The calculators tell how much data you expend with a certain amount of use, such as an hour of streaming music or 500 emails. This gives you a clearer idea how much data your usage requires and which activities make the biggest demands on your plan.

Step 3

Find ways to reduce your data usage if you're close to your cap, such as cutting back on the frequency with which your various apps send or solicit updates. Using Wi-Fi -- your home network or a local coffee shop, for instance -- rather than your provider's network doesn't use up your data budget.

Android

Step 1

Open the "Settings" application, either through the Home menu or tapping the icon on the home screen. Select the "Mobile Networks Settings" screen to see your data usage in the current cycle, and how long until the cycle turns over. If you then tap on "Data Usage," your phone will provide more details about your carrier's data-use policies and how it enforces the data-cap.

Step 2

Disable settings that might increase your phone bill for data use without you being aware of it. The "Data Enabled" and "Data Roaming" settings on the "Mobile Networks" screen, for instance, automatically connect your phone to other networks when yours isn't available, which means paying extra charges. You can still connect to Wi-Fi without enabling these settings.

Step 3

Visit mobile versions of websites -- they have "m" instead of "www" in the URL, and have less features to load. Set your mobile browser preferences so that the browser maintains a large cache of images and website elements. Clearing the cache speeds up web browsing, but a large cache lets the browser retrieve those elements faster, expending less data to do so.

BlackBerry

Step 1

Press on your homescreen until the "Add To" menu comes up, then press on "Widgets." Select "Data Usage" and it will set up a widget monitoring your data use, showing the amount and the percentage of your total.

Step 2

Download an app such as Data Monitor for $2.99 or Telicost Lite for free to give you more information. Telicost, which is usable on BlackBerry smartphones -- provided the OS is at least the 4.5 edition -- tracks data, voice and texting, compares them to your plan and alerts you if you're close to your cap. Data Monitor tracks how much data you use on 3G, GPRS, roaming and Wi-Fi; it's available for 4.2 or later OS, but not CDMA BlackBerries.

Step 3

Write down your total data usage for a couple of months, to give you a feel for how close you are to your cap. If you're struggling to stay under the cap, or you never come close, contact your carrier to change your data plan. A plan that fits your needs will save you money.

Windows Phone

Step 1

Download a free app from your provider to monitor your data use, such as AT&T's myAT&T app or T-Mobile's Myaccount. This will enable you to track data use. At time of publication, Microsoft has announced that the next version of Windows Phone, "Apollo," will have a built-in data-tracking ability.

Step 2

Turn off your data connection if you're using too much data. To do this, Microsoft states, to go to "Start," tap on the "App" list, then "Settings" and then "Cellular." Turning off the connection prevents your phone from automatically updating your apps with new data. However, it also prevents you using email or browsing the Web unless you turn it back on.

Step 3

Adjust your "Battery Saver" settings, which are also found under "Settings." In Windows Phone, Battery Saver not only saves power, it also reduces automatic data uses. For example, with Battery Saver in charge you don't receive automatic email updates until you tell your phone to sync with email.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can text your carrier to find out how much data you've used, or log into the carrier's website to check out your billing in detail. Check your carrier to learn the right text message: It's #DATA for Verizon and *DATA# for AT&T, for instance.
  • A number of apps such as DataManPro for iPhone and Android not only show percentages of use, they send your warning messages alerting when you're close to the cap.
  • Minimize your use of video on your phone. Video is the largest data drain: Streaming one film takes a gigabyte of your data allotment. If you're determined to watch the video, downloading uses less data than streaming.