Why Does the iPad Use So Much Bandwidth?

All generations of Apple's iPad have optional versions with cellular radios available, making it possible to access the Internet almost anywhere. However, most cellular carriers place restrictions on the amount of bandwidth an iPad user can consume monthly -- and you'll be hit with overage charges if you exceed your allotment. Understand why your iPad consumes so much bandwidth to control your monthly data usage and eliminate overage charges.

Hands Holding Digital Tablet
Limit iPad cellular bandwidth usage by using Wi-Fi hotspots whenever possible.
credit: visualspace/iStock/Getty Images

Application Downloads and Updates

To minimize bandwidth usage, Apple prevents iPads from downloading applications larger than 100MB over cellular networks. Even at this relatively small size, though, application downloads can deplete your bandwidth faster than you might think; a 2GB cellular plan would only give you enough bandwidth to download about 20 applications if each one is 100MB. Applications that update themselves automatically compound this issue. To limit App Store bandwidth usage, open the "iTunes & App Store" section of your iPad's Settings screen. Move the "Updates" slider to the left to prevent automatic updates or toggle the "Use Cellular Data" slider to restrict App Store downloads to Wi-Fi networks only.

Streaming Media

The iPad has innumerable options for streaming videos and music. In addition to streaming iTunes content, you can download applications to enjoy content from Netflix, Amazon and other providers. Although most of these applications can detect your cellular connection and lower the quality of the streaming content accordingly, streaming media still chews through bandwidth quickly. Whenever possible, download videos and music over a Wi-Fi connection. Save the content locally to your iPad to enjoy the content without using your cellular bandwidth.

Video Communication

According to a report released by the Federal Communications Commission in 2013, video calls using the iPad's built-in application FaceTime can consume between 100 and 1000 Kbps of cellular bandwidth. Therefore, a FaceTime call lasting five minutes could consume as much as 37MB. At this rate, a data allotment of 2GB would be consumed before the end of the month if you made just two five-minute FaceTime calls each day. To minimize FaceTime bandwidth usage, use the FaceTime application on Wi-Fi networks as much as possible. When Wi-Fi is unavailable, communicate using voice calls and text messages.

Personal Hotspot

The iPad's Personal Hotspot feature is a boon for travelers; sharing an Internet connection between devices can calm children during a lengthy drive and help you avoid exorbitant hotel Wi-Fi fees. However, you can exhaust the iPad's available bandwidth quickly when sharing its Internet connection with other devices. When using the Personal Hotspot feature, monitor your family's usage closely and ask them to close software that may download large amounts of data. At the end of the day, disable the iPad's cellular radio. Otherwise, computers left on overnight may automatically download large files such as operating system updates using the iPad's cellular connection.