The new iPhone 5 may be thinner and lighter than previous models, but users may find that it could stand to go on a data diet.
Wireless carriers have been jacking up rates and slowing speeds of heavy data users in recent months. AT&T and Verizon, for example, recently introduced shared-data plans that could make owning any smartphone cheaper for some families, and pricier for many individuals used to unlimited data plans. Both firms also have taken steps to push users that were grandfathered into discontinued unlimited plans into metered plans.
More expensive data, of course, is bad news for iPhone 5 owners Experts expect the faster 4G LTE connection on the handset will prompt more data usage a Validas study recently found 4G LTE users consume an average 1.2GB per month, versus 500 MB for users on slower connections. Nokia Siemens Networks estimates that by 2020, the average user could be going through a full gigabyte of data daily. Analysts say data charges are only going to go up as more consumers pick smartphones and take advantage of all their features. "Death, taxes and increases in your cellular bill are all things we can count on," says Brad Spirrison, managing editor for app review site Appolicious. With that in mind, smartphone users can cut back on their data consumption by tweaking settings and changing their behavior.
Hunt for WiFi
Just half of smartphone owners tapped into a WiFi connection on their phone over the previous 30 days, says Don Kellogg, director of telecom research and insights at Nielsen. Carriers only charge for data sent over their own networks -- not WiFi -- so that means a lot of people aren't taking advantage of a big opportunity for free web browsing, email and downloads. Kellogg says Android and iOS devices automatically connect to known WiFi networks, so make sure to give them the password to home and work connections. Consumers already using WiFi could save, too, by using it more. It's best to wait until one is on a free connection to download or update apps and transfer other big files, he says.
A wide variety of apps and features, including the camera and Facebook, use the phone's GPS to track its location. That's great for a user who's looking for directions or logging a run, but the function can keep running in the background even when the app isn't in use, says technology consultant Alex Goldfayn, author of "Evangelist Marketing." "That's eating data and draining your battery," he says. It's tough to say how much, exactly, but combined with other strategies the shift could be enough to push subscribers into a smaller data bucket. Smartphone users can toggle settings on their phones to turn individual apps' access on and off as needed. There's also a phone-wide off/on option for location-tracking, says Goldfayn, but hit that switch with caution -- setting everything to "off" also nixes apps that track a lost or stolen phone.
Save video for bigger screens
Experts agree: video is currently the biggest data-suck out there. "One movie will probably get you close to 1GB of data, streamed," says Goldfayn. T-Mobile's data use estimation tool projects someone who streams videos "occasionally" might use 5.86 GB per month for that habit alone, for example. Combined, occasional use of apps and games, file transfers, web surfing and email use 3.5GB per month, in comparison. Watch downloaded rather than streamed content while using the carrier's data network, Goldfayn says, and look for a WiFi connection for streaming when possible.
Choose a less data-hungry phone
According to a recent report from consulting firm Arieso, iPhone 4S users download 2.76 times as much data than iPhone 3G users. "It is the case certainly that there are some devices that are associated with the increased use among subscribers," says Michael Flanagan, Arieso's chief technology officer. But he says it's not yet clear whether having a particular handset causes consumers to spend more, or if it's more that heavier data users are drawn to specific handsets. In any case, smartphone users hoping for a smaller bill could see some savings by picking a handset that offers fewer opportunities to use data. (Sorry, Siri.)
Set a limit
Under new Federal Communications Commission rules, carriers must start sending alerts by Oct. 17 to warn subscribers as they approach their plan limits for voice minutes, texts or data. Unusual use may already trigger a courtesy call or text in some cases, experts say. Right now, many carriers offer family controls for a small fee, roughly $5 per month, that let users set hard limits on phone usage, including downloads. Android device owners using newer versions of the operating system, called Jelly Bean and Ice Cream Sandwich, can also adjust phone settings to cut off data use entirely to avoid going over the limit, says Spirrison.
Monitor family use
Depending on the plan, a family might have separate data charges for each line or one shared bucket, Kellogg says. Either arrangement could be problematic, considering that data usage among teens ages 13 to 17 spiked 256% over the past year, according to Nielsen. Their average 321 MB per month is relatively modest compared to the average 578 MB per month among the 25-34 set, but that alone is still more than carriers' cheapest data plans, and combined with other lines, could easily force an overage. "Just like anything else you give your teenager, you should monitor data use," says Kellogg.