Minimising mobile data usage
SHORT ON YOUR GIGABYTES WHEN OUT AND ABOUT? HERE ARE THE TOOLS YOU NEED TO GRAB YOURSELF SOME EXTRA DATA.
WHILE MONTHLY QUOTAS for landline broadband services have (thankfully) finally grown to the point at which you generally don’t have to stress over your data usage, the same is not true for mobile services. Most mobile services offer only a few gigabytes per month, the kind of quota that can be easily wiped out with system and app updates, plus casual browsing. Worse, most post-paid mobile services will charge a ludicrous excess usage fee if you do accidentally go over your quota.
Luckily, there are tools to help you deal with quota anxiety. This month, we’re going to look at some of the top techniques to reduce your mobile data usage.
USE A DATA SAVER PROXY
Data savers have been around for a few years, with the functionality now even built into several browsers, but not many people know about them. A data saver is a proxy or VPN service that pre-downloads sites you visit, then compresses those sites before sending them on to you. That way, the amount of data sent across the mobile link can be significantly reduced. The amount of data saved varies significantly depending on the service and the type of content you’re accessing, but 10–50% extra data is not uncommon. As an added bonus, they also frequently speed up browsing, since less data has to traverse the last mile of the internet connection.
There are a surprising number of service options here. Some of the best include Chrome, Opera and Firefox.
Chrome has a built in option, hidden away in its advanced settings. In the mobile version of Chrome, tap on the vertical ellipsis and select Settings. Look under Advanced for ‘Data Saver’. Tap on it, then turn the switch to ‘on’. A graph will appear showing you how much data you’ve saved. (As an aside, this is also available as an add-on in the Desktop version of Chrome. Look in the Chrome Web Store for Data Saver.)
Opera was one of the first to implement data saving, and is available in both its desktop browser and mobile browsers. Its mobile browser Opera Mini actually has several settings, letting you choose how much compression to apply to images and media. You can find the data saver in the settings.
Firefox has several add-ons that can do the job, including one that uses Google’s Data Saver service. In the Firefox add-on directory, look for either Data saver proxy for Firefox (which uses Google’s compression proxy) or skyZIP acceleration and compression Proxy.
Opera Max for Android is a great tool from Opera that sets up a VPN that both compresses incoming data and blocks ads — and provides reports on background data usage. It’s rather annoying that you have to keep “renewing” the service every 12 hours, but it’s otherwise a very useful service.
USE AD BLOCKERS
A substantial volume of your mobile data quota is likely going into downloading ads — and ads can be some of the worst offenders when it comes to bandwidth, with embedded video, rotating galleries and heavy flash embeds. An ad blocker can spare you both annoyance and save you bandwidth on ads.
On iOS devices, Apple has actually built in a content-blocking API that lets third-
party applications block certain types of media. There are a number of apps that use it, but we recommend 1Blocker, a tool that will stop ads, trackers, social media widgets and tracking cookies from ever making it to your browser.
On Android, you have the option to use a browser like Firefox (with add-ons), AdBlock Browser or Opera Mini, which has tools available for ad-blocking. There are also several apps that you can install for ad blocking — but you’ll have to download and install them from their home pages since Google tends to remove all ad blockers from the Play Store. We can recommend AdClear, which can be found at www.seven.com/ android-adblocker-download.php.
DOWNLOAD MEDIA FOR OFFLINE PLAY
A number of subscription services, including YouTube Red and Spotify Premium, allow you to download media for offline viewing. For instance, in Spotify, you can go to ‘Settings > Playback’ and switch on offline playback, at which point Spotify will start caching your music library locally. Even though you’re not technically ‘offline’ when you’re on a 3G/LTE, Spotify will still use the local version for playback, saving bandwidth. Plus, if you’re on Apple Music, you can download songs to your device for later offline listening.
Google Maps also has an offline mode, which is recommended if you use your phone for navigation. Within the app, tap on the hamburger to bring up your option, then tap on ‘Offline areas’. You’ll be able to select a zone (or multiple zones) and Google will download the map for that area to your phone, meaning that it won’t have to use 3G data to download live maps while you’re travelling.
TURN OFF BACKGROUND APP UPDATES AND DOWNLOADING.
Apps can use data even when you’re not actively using them. Background updates and syncing should only be enabled when you’re on Wi-Fi.
On Android, go to ‘Settings > Data usage’ under ‘Wireless & Networks’ (‘Settings > Connection > Data usage’ on Samsung TouchWiz). This will give you an overall view of your data usage, as well as an app-by-app breakdown. There should be a button to ‘Restrict background data’ which you can switch on (in later versions of Android it’s just listed as ‘Background data’, in which case, you would switch it to ‘off’, and in some versions of Android, you have to tap on the vertical ellipsis to see the option). Doing this means that only the app in the foreground (that is, the one currently open in front of you) can access the internet as long as you’re connected only to a mobile network. Once you connect to Wi-Fi, normal background downloading will start again. Alternatively, you can turn off background data for individual apps. Under ‘By application’, Android will show usage for each app. Tap on an individual app, then switch background data off for that app. If you switch it off for Google Play, app updates will be disabled until you connect to Wi-Fi.
On iOS, go to ‘Settings > Mobile’. Under ‘Use mobile data for’, there are individual switches for each app you have on your phone. You can turn them all off or select which ones you want to allow to use 3G/4G data. For any you switch off, these apps will not access the internet at all, even while you’re connected to a mobile network.
If you just want to stop background downloads, however, go instead to ‘Settings > General > Background App Refresh’. There is a switch here to turn off background downloading either globally or for individual apps. As with Android, as soon as you connect to a Wi-Fi network, normal background and foreground internet service resumes.
As an extra note for iOS, you should also turn off Wi-Fi Assist, found at the bottom of ‘Settings > Mobile’. With Wi-Fi assist, your phone may use mobile data even when it’s connected to Wi-Fi, if iOS decides that your Wi-Fi connection is too slow or spotty. It’s probably better to make that decision yourself.
A SUBSTANTIAL VOLUME OF YOUR MOBILE DATA QUOTA IS LIKELY GOING INTO DOWNLOADING ADS AND ADS CAN BE SOME OF THE WORST OFFENDERS WHEN IT COMES TO BANDWIDTH, WITH EMBEDDED VIDEO, ROTATING GALLERIES AND HEAVY FLASH EMBEDS.
1Blocker for iOS is like Disconnect.me and uBlock Origin combined.
On Android, you can turn off background data globally or just for individual apps.
Opera Mini has a highly configurable data saver with different levels of compression.
Chrome has a data saver built in.
Turn off background app refresh in iOS.