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Six clicks: How to reduce your mobile data usage

Mobile data is probably more of a commodity than anything else in our tech lives. Here are six ways to drastically reduce your monthly consumption.
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Topic: Mobility
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Six ways to cut down your data usage

The U.S. cellular industry has been shaken up by T-Mobile, whose chief executive has been on a one-man mission to tear up existing policies towards its customers. Data has been on the top of that list, with the company most recently announcing "data stash," a way to rollover your data each month.

But most other carriers are still charging through the teeth for data, which they see as valuable as gold dust. And as apps, streaming services, and even social media sites become more data hungry, the cost goes up every month.

Here are six ways you can shave those crucial bytes off your bill, so you don't go over your limits.

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How to monitor your data

Monitoring your data levels is the easiest way to keep within your monthly allowance. It's different across platforms -- Android is a bit easier for this.

For iPhone:

Go to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Usage. You will see how much cell data you have consumed for the current period. (These figures may need to be reset at the start of your billing cycle in order to be accurate.) The figures next to the various apps below will also show you how much data they have consumed -- the higher the data consumption, the more careful you need to be with that app.

For Android:

Go to Settings > Data Usage > Select the dates next to 'Data usage cycle' to match your billing cycle. From here, you can "Set Mobile Data Limit" so that it matches how much data you have with your plan. Once you hit this limit, apps will have to use Wi-Fi to download data. You can also see which apps are more data intensive -- expect browsers, and music and video sharing apps to report heavier figures.

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Prevent background app, content downloads

Apps can be updated over-the-air with your cellular connection if new versions are available. But often they churn up a considerable amount of data.

For iPhone:

Go to Settings > iTunes & App Store > disable any of the items under "Automatic Downloads." Out of the options, you will have music, apps, books, and updates. You can disable all of these, or you can keep them on but have them update over Wi-Fi, by disabling the "Use Cellular Data" option.

For Android:

Go to Google Play Store (it's in the app menu) > Settings > Untick "Auto-update apps". This will prevent apps from updating over the air. Or, alternatively you can keep this ticked, but ensure that they will only "Update over Wi-Fi only" by selecting the box below it.

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Search to find mobile versions of websites

Most websites come with mobile-optimized versions that are designed for smaller displays, like for smartphones and tablets. These sites use fewer ads, fewer graphics, and generally are optimized for lower-bandwidth devices. The end result is that you use less data.

Most websites will redirect to the mobile site when you visit on a mobile device. If it doesn't, you can either add "m." or "mobile." before the domain name. That often works. Failing that, you can always open up Google to search for the site. If you're on a mobile version, Google will ask if you want to view the "mobile optimized" version.

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Try a compression-enabled browser

Some mobile browsers (though not all) will have a data compression mode. Opera Mini (available for Android, iOS), for example, is designed to compress data and drastically reduces your overall data usage. Other browsers like Google Chrome (available for Android, iOS) can save up to 50 percent of bandwidth when you're browsing.

There is, however, an important caveat. Not always, but sometimes your browser will send all of your data through their servers, which often sit in the middle to compress the data. Not everyone will want that (or will find it appropriate).

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Use Wi-Fi whenever it's available

It sounds surprisingly simple, but many don't know that when you use Wi-Fi, every bit and byte of data that you use (with the exception of a few cellular-related things) run through that Wi-Fi network. That means you can download large movies and music files without having to compromise your data plan. Wi-Fi should be left on for as long as possible, as it will remind you to connect to a network when one becomes available.

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Avoid streaming music, video on the go

One of the most intensive data consumers is music and video. We're talking iTunes Radio, YouTube, and other streaming services. With so many areas and regions having next-generation mobile broadband speeds, it's ever more tempting to stream content on the go. But one video can churn up half of a 1GB monthly data plan.

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