Make the most of your mobile data

Britain’s mobile data tariffs are among the lowest in the world. According to an OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) study published in July 2013, only Australia’s are cheaper.

All the same, committing to a large monthly data allowance can still rack up costs over the course of a two-year contract. And if you opt for a smaller cap, then use up your whole allowance during any given month, you’ll be charged extra for additional “out-of-bundle” usage. If you can keep your data usage within reasonable limits, you can save real money.

How much data do you get, and how much do you need?

Before you worry about reducing your data usage, start by working out whether you actually need to. If you don’t know your monthly data allowance, you can normally check it on your provider’s website, or by giving them a call.

Getting the measure of how much data you actually use involves a bit more work: your month-to-month usage should be detailed on your bills, but the precise figure will naturally vary from one period to the next. Digging back several months will give you a good idea of your average usage – and whether it’s stable or gradually creeping upwards.

Once you know this, you can start making informed choices. It may be that you don’t need to reduce your usage: if you have a 500MB monthly bundle but use only 200MB in a typical month, there’s nothing to be gained by cutting back.

It might be worth contacting your provider to see if you can save money by moving down to a 250MB allowance: even if you occasionally go over the lower limit, you may well end up saving money overall.

For most of us, however, it’s more likely that we’ll be close to our data threshold, with consumption gradually growing as everyday services move online. Most providers will help you avoid going over your cap by sending you a text message when you’re getting close – but when a message such as this arrives, it’s too late to do anything other than pare your usage right back for the remainder of your billing period.

Tracking your usage

One way to keep track of your usage is by logging on to your provider’s website every week or two and checking how much of your allowance remains. Some providers – including EE and Vodafone – offer their own apps for iOS and Android that can give you a running tally. You don’t need these, however: almost all phones (and 3G/LTE-equipped tablets) come with built-in software to track activity on mobile networks.

Make the most of your mobile data

This approach comes with a caveat, since on-device records may not precisely square with what your provider thinks you’ve used. This can happen, for example, if you’re in an area of poor coverage and your device is having multiple tries at sending and receiving data packets.

It’s conceivable that you could end up being charged for exceeding your limit even if your data monitor thinks you’ve stayed just within it. So it’s still a good idea to drop by your provider’s website every so often, to check whether its records have drifted significantly apart from yours.

Android users will find the data-monitoring tool under Settings | Data Usage. It shows a graphical representation of how much mobile data you’ve consumed in any given month – tap the “Data usage cycle” dropdown to tell it the date on which your billing period starts – and if you scroll down, you’ll see a breakdown by app.

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