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Want to lower your cellphone data bill?

One of the biggest sources of frustration for smartphone users is exorbitant data rates. However, there are measures you can take to prevent paying more than you have to on your next bill. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a series of stories about data overages, including some really helpful tips, after it heard from thousands of customers who complained about inexplicable jumps in their data usage.)

Wi-Fi Assist: A great way to avoid data charges is to use wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, whenever possible. But many modern smartphones have a feature called “Wi-Fi Assist” enabled by default. Wi-Fi Assist kicks your data on when your wireless Internet signal gets “weak.” Although it might seem convenient, it’s hard to know what this service defines as a “weak” signal, so you might be needlessly eating up a lot of data without knowing it. If you have an iPhone, go into your cellular settings and turn the feature off. For Android users, the service is not turned on by default–so you don’t have to take any extra steps to make sure Wi-Fi Assist is off.

Background app refresh: Another setting you should consider turning off is the “background app refresh.” When you use apps that need data to receive information (i.e. news apps), they use data in the background to refresh and get new information, even if the app isn’t open on your phone. Similarly, if you to get “push notifications”–special “breaking news” messages–that also uses data every time a new notification shows up on your home screen. You should consider turning those notifications off, too.

Snapchat: If you or anyone in your family uses the popular messaging app Snapchat, make sure to turn on the app’s “travel mode.” Snapchat is notorious for using up a lot of data, even when it’s on in the background.

Mail sync: One of the push notifications most people have on by default is their email application. On iPhones, you can generally choose to have your mail received via push notification at certain intervals, such as every 15 minutes or every hour. If you choose to get email notifications, that will eat up data if you’re not on Wi-Fi. It might be better to choose the “manual” setting, which requires you to sweep your finger down the screen to refresh your email.

Automatic downloads: iPhones have the ability to automatically download software updates (such as if your app has a new feature) when they become available, sometimes devouring a chunk of your data plan. If you have automatic downloads turned on, make sure that your phone won’t allow updates to be downloaded over cellular data.

Location services: Another feature that hikes up your monthly bill is the use of an app’s “location services.” Many apps ask to use the GPS function on your phone to tailor information based on where you are. However, some of these apps ping your location in the background, even when you’re not using them. Check your location service settings and turn off the service for apps that don’t absolutely need to know your location to work properly. For the most part, the only apps for which you would want to have location services are your maps and weather apps.

Cellular data on individual apps: Unless you want to turn off your data completely, it might be worth going through your apps and seeing which ones you want to use data and which ones don’t need it. For example, many games by default have data on to host advertisements. Turning data off for apps that don’t need to use it can help cut down overall usage.

Downloading apps or videos: Downloads tend to eat up the most cellular data. If you can, make sure you’re connected to Wi-Fi when downloading apps or photos/videos to save unnecessary data charges.

How much data do I need? 

According to Mobidia data, consumers with smartphones use an average of about 1.8 GB of data per month. However, companies might try to up-sell you on plans that have a higher data cap—including “unlimited” data plans that you might not need.

No matter what carrier you’re with, be sure to check frequently, especially during the first few months of your contract, to monitor your data usage. You may be able to access your data usage information online or through text messaging your provider.

What are a megabyte (MB) and a gigabyte (GB)?

Service providers measure data in megabytes (MB) and the larger gigabyte (GB). Whenever you send an email, download an attachment, view a web page or post on social media, your phone is transmitting data. On your phone, 1 MB of data is equal to viewing 1 web page, sending or receiving 50 emails without attachments or streaming 2 minutes of music.

One gigabyte, which is equal to 1,000 megabytes, roughly allows you to view 1,000 web pages, stream 33 hours of music or send or receive 50,000 emails without attachments.

For more information, watch this video from the Cleveland Plain Dealer on how to reduce data charges. Also, click here for a full list of the stories done by the Plain Dealer on cell phone data overages.

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