For the past few months, I've been paying $5 - $10 a month for overshooting my cellular data allotment on my mobile phone. Not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but upon investigating the problem I've discovered that it's an unnecessary bi-product of the inefficient way that my phone uses data.
No real surprise, there, but here's what I've learned.
- The phone itself has tools to help. I use an Android phone that has a "Data usage" section in the settings. There, you can see how much data you've been using over the past billing period. It lists the top data-using applications. By touching an application, you can see how exactly the application has been using that data. There are two categories: foreground and background. Foreground appears to be what the app uses as you're using it. Background appears to be the under-the-hood stuff used for who knows what purpose. (My guess is it's stuff that partially serves you as the user, and partially serves the countless players feeding off you as a consumer.) The happy news is that in a lot of cases, you can disable the background data consumption when you're away from Wi-fi.
- The carriers don't care. I find it interesting that the telco / mobile carriers don't alert their users to high cellular data usage or make any attempt to help their users with minimizing unnecessary consumption.
- There are apps for that. I'm experimenting with something called Opera Max that routes your requests through servers that compress the entire round-trip traffic generated by the apps you use. I've found that with the web browser in particular, this tool will shave off about 20 - 30% of data consumption without any noticeable effect. Happily, it also has a way of locking other applications out of cellular data access, so I'm using that as well.
- Voice over IP is a supposed replacement for cellular voice service, but results obtained by many forum posters tell me that it's still not there yet. Which is a shame, because there are now data-only plans that would allow people to drop voice service through their carrier altogether. I'll keep an eye on those data-only services, though, because my dual-SIM phone would allow to insert one SIM for a data-only plan while keeping another for a voice/text plan.
I've now disabled background use of cellular data by every application I can. I've got Opera Max slimming my cellular data use. I've also told my carrier that I'm fed up with paying so much and that I'm looking for a better solution.