Is this thing on? How to determine when your phone is using the internet and draining your data plan

Nina Rodríguez
Nina Rodríguez
Jun 4, 2019

Are you wondering why your phone keeps hitting its data cap, even though you’ve turned off the Wi-Fi? Consider this — just because your phone’s not connected to Wi-Fi doesn’t mean you’re not using the internet. Let us walk you through some of the ways your smartphone may be eating up your data plan… and we can help you figure out how to address it.

If your cellular data is on, you’re likely browsing the internet even when you don’t want to

Basically, your cellular data is used whenever your phone needs an internet connection to perform any task. Yes, some of you might be thinking, “Duh, Captain Obvious!” But there are still many of us that overlook that when we’re using cellular data there are many apps and smartphone functions that may be running in the background and draining our data plans. Let’s dig further.

  • Background data
    What’s an example of background data, you ask? When your phone syncs up your new email messages, for one. This can silently drain your smartphone data.

Tip to avoid this: If you have several email accounts and/or receive a large volume of email, instead of turning off all cellular data, go into Mail settings and turn off cellular just for your email.

  • Updating apps
    If you enjoy quite a few apps, be mindful that your phone is updating anytime a new version is available. That can quickly add up.

Tip to avoid this: Turn off automatic app updates in your settings and, whenever possible, wait until you have Wi-Fi to update them.

  • Notifications
    If all app notifications are turned on, you’re probably getting a lot of alerts on your phone … and that is consuming a lot of data. Some of them may be needed, but it’s better to choose which ones you usually use.

Tip to avoid this: Disable all email and push notifications, in order to avoid receiving unhelpful information, then go back and select the specific apps for which you’d like to continue receiving notifications.

  • GPS
    When you are looking for your next destination or creating a route, your phone is using its data. In many locations, this is necessary, due to poor Wi-Fi connections.

Tip to avoid this: Download maps of the surroundings you plan to visit or search for your destination with a Wi-Fi connection. If Wi-Fi is spotty, use cellular, but be sure that once you find your way, you shut down the app.

  • Video calling
    Whenever you use any video calling option — such as FaceTime, Whatsapp and Skype — your phone is using its data plan. The good thing here is these apps are not supposed to use that much data.

Tip to avoid this: If you usually video chat with your friends and family, consider doing it while connected to your Wi-Fi.

  • Autoplay
    If you like to use social media sites such as Facebook and take your time scrolling down the page, it’s probable that most videos are autoplaying, so your phone is using a lot of its data plan using this feature.

Tip to avoid this: Go to the app’s settings and turn off the Autoplay option.

  • Streaming services
    If you like to stream TV shows, music, movies and even podcasts, you need to know that these use a lot of data from your plan. For example, the Verizon Wireless Data Calculator estimates that streaming 30 minutes of video a day will use more than 5GB of data a month.

Tip to avoid this: Look for streaming services that allow you to download the content with a Wi-Fi connection so you can access it directly from your phone, instead of using your data.

  • Cloud storage and sync
    Allowing an auto backup directly from your phone will use a lot of your data usage, but so does downloading and uploading files directly onto your computer. Having constant sync in your apps is going to put a big dent your data cap.

Tip to avoid this: Change the options in your Android or iOS device so it only does backups and sync when connected to a Wi-Fi network.

  • Gaming apps
    Not all gaming apps use internet data, but most of them are updated frequently and fall into that background data category. Also, when your Wi-Fi signal is weak, most gaming apps can switch to your data plan … and they won’t tell you about it.

Tip to avoid this: Make sure these apps only update while connected to a stable Wi-Fi connection. You should also block the background data in your phone settings.

The key to better using your phone data

So, before you ditch your current high-speed data plan and move to a more expensive tier, we recommend taking a look at your current settings and move from a cellular to Wi-Fi connection, whenever possible.

For those apps that do require cellular, be sure to close them as soon as you’re done. Not only will it help keep your data usage down, you’ll get another added value: increased battery life.

Remember to be aware of your data usage so you can enjoy all your favorite stuff without fear of crashing your monthly data plan.