Smart devices and data blind spots

It would be great to imagine a scenario in which your internet connection would run flawlessly and effortlessly. But just like in those few and unfortunate occasions when the fuel tank of your car starts leaking amidst a long, lonely road, a heavy data leakage with your smart devices can occur. You can suddenly experience an ambiguous overload of updates and instant notifications – which can sound daunting especially on foreign ground. ‘Dings’ and ‘pings’ announcing the diminishing capacity of your data sovereignty – but no need to feel stranded in the middle of the Internet desert.

Applications are becoming increasingly hungry for data, while constantly pushing for new updates. Additionally, web surfing keeps becoming richer, with heavier content such as video streaming, thus skyrocketing the usage of mobile data.

So how much data do you actually need?

While for some it’s crystal clear, for others, understanding data can be rather confusing at times. If you feel puzzled with bytes, bits and generations go back to the basics and get some key terms right before talking about managing the digital data used in everyday life.

Naturally, it is the apps and services you use the most that also use the most data. Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, Snapchat, Spotify, Twitter and YouTube are the most popular applications for a lot of people and thus consume most of the data. See below how much these applications consume in general daily use.

How much data you need

  • General web browsing uses approximately 60MB per hour, but it goes without saying that the amount of data varies from website to website. Websites heavy with images will take up a larger portion of your data allowance in comparison to surfing text-only pages.

  • With the official Facebook app, you can expect to use around 80MB per hour, if you are just browsing the news feed and viewing photos. If you are also watching videos on Facebook, your data usage will double and jump to around 160MB/hour.

  • Surprisingly, Instagram is the application consuming the most data. If you really take your time exploring photos, stories, and videos you might end up consuming over 700MB in just one hour. If only briefly browsing through your newsfeed you might survive with little bit smaller consumption.

  • In Snapchat, sending and receiving a snap will use about 1MB, whereas an hour of snapping will use around 160MB.

  • Netflix uses from 250MB per hour depending the quality settings you have selected. With low quality, you use 250MB per hour, with medium quality 500MB per hour, and with high quality 1GB per hour.

  • On YouTube you can expect to consume around 300MB an hour. Smartphone users don’t have access to quality options. But not to worry, YouTube is looking after your consumption from a quality perspective and tries to keep the consumption around 300MB depending whether you are on 3G or 4G.

  • The data amount consumed when streaming music again depends on the service you subscribe to. In most cases, 150MB is the maximum needed within an hour of streaming at 320kps (roughly 12MB a song). With lower quality the data can be cut down. E.g. Spotify lets you dial down the quality to 96kps or 160kps. With these levels, the hourly consumption would not be more then 43MB and respectively 72MB. Some lossless music streaming services like Tidal can use over 600MB in an hour.

  • Most podcasts are approximately 1MB per minute so for one hour of listening you should reserve around 60MB of data. Small variations can occur depending on the exact quality the podcast has been encoded in.

  • Games requiring online connectivity aren’t normally very data intensive. An hour of gaming uses somewhere around 3MB per hour. More demanding games can use a bit more.

  • Application downloads can also be rather data hungry. It is always best to check how large the app is before downloading. For reference, the latest version of Facebook is 307.2MB, LinkedIn 139.6MB and of Snapchat 144.2MB, just to mention a few.

What can we do to make the most out of those MBs?

Each MB is becoming more valuable, especially when travelling abroad. We don’t like to see them go down the drain with app and system upgrades snatching those precious MBs from right under our noses. But what can we do to prevent that from happening? Luckily there are many ways we can optimize this kind of data consumption and make sure we are not using too much on our data plan.

1. Monitor and limit the data usage

Both iOS and Android operating systems offer you the possibility to check the basics of your data usage on your devices directly as well as more tailored monitoring through third party applications.

In iOS the cellular data statistics are available in Settings > Cellular or Mobile data. Note that the statistics do not reset after each billing period, but you need to remember to do it yourself.

Find iOS settings for mobile data management

If you would like to track your data in iOS in a more tailored way, a third-party application could be recommended. My Data Manager is one option to consider. This application helps you keep track of both cellular and Wi-Fi data usage, as well as Roaming data usage. The application allows you to set custom alarms for daily, weekly and monthly data usage.

Use third party applications, such as My Data Manager, for data management in iOS devices

In Android (4.0 or later), data usage statistics can be checked just like in iOS, but you can also set your own alerts and limits from your device. You can find the settings under Settings > Wireless & Networks > Data usage or Mobile data. You might need to look around a bit in different Android devices, but you should be able to find them under the Network Settings with some exceptions.

Manage mobile data for Android under device settings

Using device settings or third-party applications (required in iOS) you will be able to track your data usage for a specific time period as well as set limits and alerts on data usage. Alternatively, you can use your service provider’s mobile apps if available. The information may differ from what your device or third-party applications say. The most accurate information is the one that comes directly from your service provider. E.g. Goodspeed Wifi usage can be best tracked with Goodspeed Mobile app.

Most accurate information comes from your service provider e.g. here through Goodspeed or AT&T mobile application.

2. Use free Wi-Fi when available, but don’t forget your VPN

Best way to save data is to turn it off whenever you don’t need it, both when it comes to cellular or other paid data plans. There are hundreds of thousands of free Wi-Fi hotspots around the world for your use in many public places — including parks, supermarkets, even department stores. However, there is always a security risk when connecting to free Wi-Fi. This is why it is advised to always use VPN when connected to public Wi-Fi networks.

Some carriers also offer hotspot network of their own. AT&T hotspot network (see this Wi-Fi hotspot locator map) will also be available for Goodspeed Roaming App users as of summer 2018.

3. Limit or restrict the background operation data consumption

The biggest drain of your data quota actually happens in the background, without you even realizing it is happening. These background activities munching away at your data include automatic application updates and e-mail working to synchronize new messages. You can use data consumption monitoring tools in your device, third-party or service provider applications to review exactly where your data is going and then make necessary changes to disable unwanted background activities and updates. Both in iOS and Android you can manage the background data usage from device setting by limiting or completely disabling the automatic application updates and syncs. In Android devices, remember to also disable the Play Store updates from Play Store settings. Use free Wi-Fi (over VPN) where you can for updates and e-mail sync. Also, if you are using a paid Wi-Fi plan, make sure you are connected to free Wi-Fi before allowing Wi-Fi updates.

Restrict the background operation from device settings

4. Go offline!

Even commonly used applications, such as Navigation, can eat up a surprisingly large chunk of your data. If you are heading to a new city and likely have to be relying on navigation to find your whereabouts, consider downloading the area maps offline from Google Maps. In Android, you can just search for the area in Google Maps and then tap More info, followed by Download. In iOS you can also take Google Maps offline; tap offline maps, define your area, download and save. From Apple Maps you can also download a route beforehand, which will then be also available offline. If you don’t feel comfortable relying on the caches you can also export the area map as a PDF file from Apple Maps.

Streaming services, especially for videos, are by far the biggest and fastest drain on your data. If you stream a lot of content, then consider a subscription which has the option of saving videos onto your device and / or which offers offline content.

For Music streaming, Apple Music (Android, iOS), Google Play Music (Android, iOS), and Spotify (Android, iOS) allow you to create playlists for offline listening for both Android and iOS. Download the playlists offline before travelling or by using the free Wi-Fi networks.

If you do need to stream online, remember that the higher the resolution, the more data is used, so make sure to choose the lower quality.

Go offline with music streaming and navigation

5. Travel lighter with your applications

Naturally, as discussed already previously, it is the apps and services you use the most that also use the most data. Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, Snapchat, Spotify, Twitter and YouTube are the most popular applications for a lot of people. Luckily there is a way to reduce how much data they are using by default. Again, you can use your device statistics to check which applications are the most popular in your case and how much data they are using.

If you want to go a bit lighter with the data with these top seven applications, the actions we recommend is to avoid the auto-play for videos on Facebook and Twitter, and to stop preloading videos and photos on Instagram. Enable travel mode for Snapchat data saving and for YouTube you can choose the high definition videos only be streamed while on Wi-FI. In Netflix you can set the video quality lower and download playlists offline or lower the streaming quality for Spotify.

6. Review your browsing habits

Your browsing habits can also have remarkable role when it comes to where your data quota is being allocated to. If possible, always browse the mobile version on mobile device and avoid the desktop versions of the sites. You should also consider preserving your caches on the frequently visited sites, meaning you won’t have to download images again every time you visit. Some browsers themselves also have built-in options to save data by compressing pages before downloading. In Chrome you can manage the internet data from settings. In Android you can turn on the Data saver and in iOS you can manage the website pre-load under Bandwidth settings. Apart from that, you can choose to use a browser designed to compress data such as the Opera Mini.

Put your browser to data savings mode

With these small changes you can reduce your data usage significantly. Not only will these tricks save you on data, but also it will extend your battery life. Stay connected and stay away from the data blind spots!

- Maarit @Goodspeed