As you’re likely aware, in recent years, cellular providers like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have been charging for cellular data usage on your iPhone.
They’re good about letting you know before you reach your monthly allowance of gigabytes (GB's) and politely ask you if you’d like to increase your monthly allowance of cellular data, unlike the old days of surprise long-distance bills after the fact.
The most frustrating part is trying to determine what is using cellular data on your iPhone. Combine that with the likelihood that you’re sharing your cellular data plan with other people, and monitoring your cellular data usage gets even more complicated.
There may be a time when cellular data is not such a precious commodity, but since I pay for it, I like to keep an eye on my usage.
Here are 5 steps I take to monitor my cellular data usage:
Step 1 - Connect to Wi-Fi Networks whenever possible
This one is simple. When your iPhone is connected to a Wi-Fi network, you’re not using cellular data. Not sure if you’re connected to Wi-Fi? Get used to looking at the status bar at the top of your iPhone.
If you see the Wi-Fi symbol, you’re connected to Wi-Fi.
If you see LTE, 3G or 4G, you’re using cellular data.
Step 2 - Avoid high usage activities when using cellular data
You’re not always able to connect to a trusted Wi-Fi network, so it’s inevitable you’ll be in a situation where you need to use cellular data. Being aware of high cellular usage activities can help prevent a surprise.
Connect to Wi-Fi if you need to do any of these things:
- Watching a movie online; it’s ok if you’ve downloaded it to your iPhone.
- Watching videos online; they’re shorter than a movie, but avoid watching for long periods of time.
- Listening to music online; again it’s ok if you’re listening to your offline music library.
- Download a podcast or ebook; these files can be large and chew up cellular data quickly.
- Using FaceTime or other video calling; like Skype or Google Hangouts.
Step 3 - Restrict apps from using cellular data
Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to apps using cellular data. You can restrict apps from using cellular data on a case by case basis.
Go to Settings > Cellular > Use Cellular Data For > turn off apps.
I turn Cellular Data ON for apps I know I’ll need in the car, like Maps, Yelp and Waze. I also turn on my Starbucks app, since I use it at the register.
I turn Cellular Data OFF for apps I use at home or apps I use infrequently, then turn it on if I’m using the app and get prompted to turn on cellular data.
Step 4 - Review ‘hidden’ cellular settings
There are cellular data settings that buried in other settings that you should review. Since it’s not always possible to be connected to Wi-Fi, updating these settings can prevent unexpected high amounts of cellular data usage.
Turn off Background app refresh.
Go to Settings > General > Background App Refresh > turn it off
This prevents apps from refreshing their content when using cellular data. App’s will instead refresh when you’re using them.
Prevent iTunes and App Automatic Downloads from using Cellular data.
Go to Settings > iTunes/App Store > Automatic Downloads > Use Cellular Data > turn it off
This prevents apps from being updated using cellular data. I update apps manually when connected to Wi-Fi from the App Store.
Prevent iCloud Drive from using Cellular data.
Go to Settings > General > iCloud > iCloud Drive > Use Cellular Data (at the bottom) > turn it off
iCloud drive manages documents on your iPhone like pdfs and other files. When transferring any documents to iCloud drive, I connect to Wi-Fi.
Turn off Wi-Fi Assist.
Go to Settings > Cellular > Wi-Fi Assist (at the bottom) > turn it off
This setting will automatically use cellular data if your Wi-Fi connection is poor. Since you’re not really sure when Wi-Fi assist kicks in, it can be the source of unexpected cellular data usage.
Step 5 - Monitor your cellular data usage
The best way to monitor the cellular data usage for your plan is by going to your providers website.
You can monitor the cellular data usage from your iPhone, however the statistics are not synced with your cellular providers billing cycle.
Go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Usage.
To make these cellular data usage stats useful, I reset statistics (all the way at the bottom), then use my iPhone as normal and determine what is using up my cellular data.
Understanding the cellular data settings on your iPhone is the first step in getting a handle on usage.
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