Where is all your mobile data being used? How to place limits on the the data usage and avoid unexpected bills from your phone service provider.

Mobile phone data plans are becoming more generous, but our data consumption is increasing too. Running out of data is a constant worry, so what can be done to reduce our data needs? Here are some tips.

Perhaps you have an unlimited data plan and think you don’t need to worry. You should be aware that mobile data is never unlimited and even plans that use the word ‘unlimited’ are not truly unlimited. If you try to use unlimited you will sooner or later come to the attention of your phone service provider and be capped or limited in some way.

More likely is that you have a cheap cell phone plan contract with a low limit. It may be 500MB, 1GB, or even 2GB. Whatever the limit, it seems all too easy to exceed it. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the amount of data you use.

For example, browsing the web with Chrome can use a lot of data because websites have bloated pages containing a lot of content these days. Reducing the data that Chrome uses means that there is more data available elsewhere, such as for streaming music or watching online videos.

Apps run in the background and they use data, such as checking for updates, syncing and so on. Limiting the background apps will reduce the data they use, which leaves more for other, more interesting things.

I’ll be using A Samsung Galaxy S6 running Android 6 for this, but the tips apply to other Android phones. For more Android tips for reducing data usage, take a look at this article.

Configure Chrome to use less data

Open the Chrome browser.

Tap the menu button in the top right corner and then press Settings.

the Chrome settings menu in the Android app

Down near the bottom of the settings is Data Saver. This should be turned on and when it is, is shows the amount of mobile data saved.

Press Data Saver.

Chrome browser settings in the Android app

If Data Saver is not turned on, use the switch in the top right corner and enable it.

Chrome data saver cuts down on the amount of mobile data used when browsing the web

In the screenshot you can see my savings. They will vary from person to person and it depends on what you use Chrome for and how much you use it. I am a light user of Chrome and almost always have Wi-Fi, but even so, I have saved many megabytes of data.

A heavy user of Chrome on a mobile phone could potentially save hundreds of megabytes of data.

Configure data usage options

Leave Chrome and go to the phone Settings app. Select Data usage.

There are several features here that are useful for limiting the amount of mobile data used. The most obvious of these is the Mobile data switch. Turn it off and phone apps will be limited to accessing the internet over Wi-Fi. If there is no Wi-Fi then they may not work fully - no social network updates, no streaming movies for example.

Android data usage configuration options - reduce mobile data

Down at the bottom is Set mobile data limit. This enables you to automatically turn off mobile data after a certain amount has been used.

The two bars on the chart at the top show the limit (top red bar) and warning (lower black bar). The limit and warning can be dragged to whatever level you want to set.

It is best to set the limit to just below your contract limit because there may be a few megabytes difference between the way the phone measures usage and the way your phone provider does. My limit is 500MB, so the limit is set to 495MB and I get a warning when 460MB has been used.

Stop background apps

In the top right corner is Restrict background data. Apps running in the background can use a lot of data, and social apps frequently check for new posted messages for example, other apps might sync with servers, photos might be uploaded and stored online and so on.

By turning on this option, the amount of data used by apps in the background is severely limited. This might mean fewer notifications, but they tend to be just a distraction anyway. Anything important will still run, but unimportant apps won’t.