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10 Ways to maximise your smartphones data limit
Martin Gandar By: Martin Gandar, Independent Research Analyst, Independent and Ovum Associate Analyst
Published: 22nd September 2011
Copyright Independent and Ovum Associate Analyst © 2011

It’s now the norm for operators to limit data downloads on most of their mobile tariffs. There are exceptions and depending on your country you may still find unlimited data-plans or special broadband tariffs, but for moist users there will be limits that start low at 200MB per month and range up to 1GB.

Providers should inform you via email or text if you are close to exceeding your mobile data allowance. Different operators have different policies on what action to take against customers who exceed their allowances and the most common include:

  • Cutting-off your connection (though this is rare and normally reserved for those who excessively and repeatedly exceed their allowance).
  • Throttling your speed (many operators, including T-Mobile and Vodafone in the UK, will downgrade your connection to their 2G network).
  • Charging you per extra
  • Cancelling any bundled access to wi-fi hotspots

This isn’t going to be a great problem for most users as we seldom use more than 200Mbytes of download in a month, and the table below shows that we can get quite a lot within the limits on offer


500MB corresponds to…

1GB corresponds to…

Basic webpages (mainly text)



Rich webpages (with multimedia, e.g. BBC)



Basic e-mails



Rich e-mails (with attachments)



Downloading/streaming music

100 songs

200 songs

Downloading/streaming video

1 hour

2 hour

Listening to online radio

8 hours

16 hours

Source of estimates: O2 [12]. Online radio calculation assumes 128kbps bitrate. 

So there shouldn’t be any panic, but if you are the sort of user who wants to stream TV to your phone then be careful ! Service2Media offers the following guidelines on how to avoid surprises.

1. Buy a SIM card when abroad: If you’re going for more than a couple of days, it might be cheaper to buy a pay as you go SIM card in your destination country. It will almost certainly be cheaper to make calls within that country; although not necessarily cheaper to make a call back home. Double check the tariffs. You’ll also need to ensure your handset is unlocked

2. If you don’t get a SIM then watch out for roaming costs: Your data-plan is unlikely to be Global or even EU wide so you need to agree a ‘passport’ style deal with your provider if you want to avoid the sort of unexpected bills reported in the press You can also do simple things like getting people to call you rather than calling home. It’s always cheaper to receive a call when you are abroad. Your friends pay the normal cost to call your phone and you pay a call to receive it in the country where you are traveling but this is a lot less than calling home from abroad.

When it comes to data charges fortunately in many EU countries mobile operators have been forced to introduce a cut-off limit for roaming data charges. However, this doesn’t apply to customers travelling beyond the EU.

So if a typical smartphone uses around 200MB of data per month. Typically the networks charge between 4 euro/MB and 8 euro /MB for data roaming. If you are abroad for a month and don’t limit data roaming then you’ll end up with a bill about 1,000. Euro Downloading a typical MP3 file would cost you about 20 euro. Watching one hour of television would cost about 2,500 euro, so getting a special rate from your provider is a must.

3. Turn off data intensive features of your phone. You only need to do this if you aren’t sure of what you’ll be downloading and either you’re close to your limit or you are abroad and unsure of the cost.

  • iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Network > Data Roaming and select Off. For an extra precaution, you can disable all internet connectivity in iOS4.
  • Android: Go to Settings > Wireless & networks > Mobile networks and uncheck ‘Data roaming’. Android also offers the option to disable internet connectivity altogether.

4. Limit yourself for high bandwith activity. Only do the items below if you are aware of the amount of data you are downloading.

Downloading or streaming video/music (for example applications such as YouTube, Spotify,, TVCatchup, BBC iPlayer).

  • Using P2P applications on your phone (e.g. BitTorrent)
  • Using voice-over-IP applications (e.g. Skype)

5. Don’t Tether unless you know what you are doing

Tethering means connecting your mobile phone to a PC or laptop as a modem and sharing your phone’s 3G mobile broadband service. This includes USB tethering and tethering via the iPhone & Android personal hotspot features.

Recently, though, some providers such as AT&T have made tethering an official data plan add-on. Paying $20 extra per month. Similarly Sprint charges $30 per month for tethering access through its new HTC EVO 4G for Android users and T-Mobile offers Nexus One models Android 2.2 "Froyo", providing both tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot creation options..

6. Use apps rather than web browsers: Apps are far more efficient at communication that working through the extra layers imposed by web access. If you can make use of native apps that are efficient communicators it could save you a considerable amount of data traffic for your popular applications. Always look for a well-built app if there is a choice between web usage and app.

7. Check how you download emails
If you use a web-based email system such as Hotmail, Yahoo or Googlemail, checking your email is just counted as surfing the web (except if you download an attachment ) This is a safe way to avoid getting large data downloads as you can always see what’s there before you download it.

If you use Outlook then you might end up downloading everything that’s sent to your e-mail attachments included even if you don’t open them. This may not be a problem if you

8. Use VoIP/instant messaging (e.g. Skype) over Wi-Fi not 3G 

Use VoIP(Voice over IP) on your smartphone or IM (Instant Messaging) application such as MSN Messenger, Skype or Google Talk. But only use them for a WiFi hotspot don’t use them over the mobile network though as they’ll eat into your data limit.

9. Know how to control your phone: We see many people who don’t install a power control bar or the equivalent so that they can toggle on and off things like the use of WiFi and in this context, the synching of data. Using such tools allows you to say whether you want to synch data between your various messaging and e-mail accounts and your smartphone and turning these off can save a lot of unnecessary downloads, that you might prefer to do using WiFi or if you are travelling might prefer not to do at all. It’s also of course useful for it’s primary purpose that is to conserve battery life.

10. Monitor your usage: so you can see where you are against your monthly limits.Finally and almost most importantly, be aware of your usage by monitoring it using an app such as 3G Watchdog for Android phones or something like At&T’s myWireless iPhone App to show you where you are on data usage for that billing cycle.


Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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