Save Your Mobile Data When Tethering Android Tablet or Phone

This hidden setting saves mobile data.

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No Wi-Fi network available? No problem! If you pair your smartphone (with its cellular data connection) or a dedicated 3G/4G mobile hotspot with your Wi-Fi-only Android tablet, you'll be able to get internet access on your tablet even when there's no Wi-Fi network available.

Similarly, you could use a mobile hotspot to give your mobile phone internet connectivity when it doesn't have a good (or any) wireless signal but your other internet-connected device does. Just make sure when you tether, you don't unnecessarily use up all your precious mobile data.

Most wireless carriers' tethering plans share an allotment of monthly mobile data when you tether devices together like this. To conserve your mobile data, head to this hidden Android setting from the device you're trying to get online. 

The Hidden Setting

Android devices (those with Android 4.1 and above) have a not-so-well-known option to mark Wi-Fi access points as "mobile access points." This tells installed apps that you're connected to a mobile hotspot (with limited data available) rather than a typical Wi-Fi network (which isn't limited), and that they should, therefore, limit the amount of traffic they use.

Your tablet or phone will treat the network like a mobile data (4G or 3G) network instead of Wi-Fi, and this should limit the amount of background data that apps pull in when you're connected to that mobile hotspot. With this setting enabled, you might also get warnings when there's a large download or other data-hogging activity (like large files or music downloads) you should know about over those networks.

Change Your Settings to Save Data

Android Central notes that if you're tethering one Android (4.1+) device to another (say, your Android tablet to your Android smartphone, both running Jelly Bean or above), these devices will automatically figure things out for you and handle the data access to minimize your data usage, so you (hopefully) don't go over your mobile data plan allotment.

If you are not connecting two Android devices, though (maybe you're connecting an Android tablet to a Mifi or any other non-Android mobile hotspot like the iPhone for internet connectivity), this hidden setting should come in handy:

  1. Open Settings from the all apps screen or by swiping down from the top of the screen and tapping the gear/settings icon.
  2. Under Wireless & networks (called Wireless and Networks or Network connections in some Android versions), tap Data usage
  3. Open the Network restrictions or Restrict networks settings from the Wi-Fi section.
    1. On some older Android versions, you should instead tap the three dots in the top right corner to get to the menu to select Mobile HotSpot or Mobile hotspots
  4. Open the network that should have its setting changed, and choose Metered.
    1. This option might be a slider toggle or checkbox space in older versions of Android, and enabling it next to the network will turn the feature on.
  5. You can now exit the settings.

This should help you conserve more mobile data when you're sharing your wireless data with your tablet, phone, or another mobile gadget.

These tactics, while designed to minimize data usage on your wireless hotspot, could also help limit your data usage (most importantly, data roaming) when you're traveling. Just set any wireless network as a mobile hotspot to limit the kinds and amount of traffic that get pulled.

More Tips on Saving Data When Tethered

You can also put a limit on how much data can be used so that the device will not use more than what you specifically allow. The limit can be set to whatever you like but would make sense to be set up to be the same amount of data you pay for, or even less if you share your plan with others.

This works great whether you're utilizing a hotspot or not, but is especially helpful when you are tethering since your connected devices might use more data than you anticipate. When this data limit is reached, all mobile data services will be disabled until the month renews.

You should enable this limit on the device through which all the traffic is flowing - the one that's paying for the mobile data. For example, if your phone is being used as the hotspot for your Wi-Fi tablet so that it can get mobile data, you'd want to set up this limit on the phone since all the traffic is flowing through it.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Complete Step 1 and Step 2 from above.
  2. From the Data usage screen, tap Cellular data usage or Mobile data usage in the Cellular or Mobile section, respectively.
    1. If you're using an older Android version, choose Set mobile data limit instead, and then skip down to Step 6.
  3. Use the gear icon at the top right to open more settings.
  4. Tap the button to the right of Set data limit or Limit mobile data usage, and confirm any prompts.
  5. Now tap Data limit or Data usage limit just below it.
  6. Choose how much data the device is allowed to use during each billing cycle before all mobile data should be turned off.
  7. You can now exit the settings.

There's also an option called "Data warning" that you can enable if you don't necessarily want data to be disabled but instead to be told when you're reaching a specific amount. You can do this via Step 3 above, or on older devices from the Data usage screen; the option there is called "Alert me about data usage." 

Something else you can do is change settings in your biggest data-demanding apps, like Netflix and YouTube. Since these are video streaming apps that are commonly used on bigger screens like tablets, tethering that to a phone can use data pretty quickly. Adjust the quality of the videos to be low or of a lesser-than-HD quality so that they don't use as much data.

Another app that uses lots of data is your web browser. Consider using one that compresses data like Opera Mini.

Of course, for a foolproof method of saving on data usage, you could always just turn everything off manually, without waiting for a data limit to be reached. From the Data usage settings page, toggle the Cellular data or Mobile data option to "off" so that your device only uses Wi-Fi. This, of course, means that the device can only connect to mobile hotspots and other Wi-Fi networks, but it will for sure prevent any extra mobile data charges.