Ways to Reduce Your Mobile Data Usage

Save your data allowance and save money

An ever-increasing amount of apps and services need access to the internet. If you are not at a location where you can use Wi-Fi, this means connecting to a mobile data network. Mobile data, either as part of a cellular plan or on pay-as-you-go, costs money, so it is sensible to try to reduce the amount of mobile data you use whenever possible.

Cellular tower.
​​Chris Gould /  Getty Images

Even if a certain amount of data is included with your plan, there is usually a limit (unlimited data plans are increasingly rare), and if you go beyond it, the charges start to mount up. There are, however, a few tricks you can use to make sure your data usage is minimized.

Restrict Background Data

Several of the main smartphone operating systems, including Android and Apple, allow you to restrict background data with the flick of a switch in the network settings. When you restrict background data, some apps and phone services will not work unless you have access to a Wi-Fi network. Your phone will continue to function, however, and you will reduce the amount of data used. A useful option if you are nearing the limit of your data allowance at the end of a month.

View the Mobile Version of Websites

When you view a website on your smartphone, every element, from the text to the images, has to be downloaded before it is displayed. This is not a real problem when viewing the website on your home computer, using your broadband connection, but on your phone each element that is downloaded uses up a bit of your data allowance.

Increasingly, websites now provide both a desktop and a mobile version. The mobile version will almost always include far fewer images and be much lighter and faster to open. Many websites are set up to detect whether or not you are viewing on a mobile device and will display the mobile version automatically. If you think you are viewing a desktop version on your phone, it is worth checking to see if there is a link to switch to a mobile version (usually at the bottom of the main page).

Aside from the difference in layout and content, you can normally tell if a website is running the mobile version by the "m" in the URL (some websites will display "mobile" or "mobileweb" instead). The browser settings of all of the main smartphone OS's will allow you to set your preference to the mobile version. Stick to the mobile version whenever possible and your data usage will be reduced.

Don't Clear Your Cache

There is an argument for emptying the browser cache (and the cache of other apps) to help keep your Android phone running smoothly. The cache is a component that stores data ready for use. When that data is requested again by the browser, for example, having it in the cache means that it can be provided faster and without requiring it to be fetched from the web server where it was originally held. Emptying the cache will free up internal memory space on the device and help the whole system to run slightly better.

However, if you are trying to reduce data usage, leaving the browser cache intact has obvious benefits. If the browser does not have to fetch images and other components of regularly used websites, it does not have to use so much of your data allowance. Task managers and cleaning utilities often clean the cache, so if you have one installed, add your browser to the exclude list.

Use a Text-Only Browser

There are several third-party browsers, such as TextOnly, available for smartphones which will strip out the images from a website and only display the text. By not downloading the images, which are the largest things on any web page, less data is used.