/ Technology

Do you leave your mobile data turned off?

mobile data

Is the paranoia of facing an inflated mobile phone bill causing you to keep your data turned off? It doesn’t have to be this way. You are the master of your own data.

Turning off the data on your smartphone is like depriving it of oxygen. Without it, you’ll be able to make calls, receive texts, use a few of your apps and that’s about it.

If you only use your phone for calls and texts then fair enough, you don’t need your data. But, there’s no point of having a £300+ smartphone in your pocket if you’re only making the most of it when you’re close enough to wi-fi.

Why you shouldn’t worry

Firstly, monitoring your data is a doddle, and you can head to our story on keeping track of your data if you want to learn how. Secondly, most apps aren’t actually using very much.

The apps that use the most data are video and music streaming apps such as YouTube and Spotify. Watching a 1080p video while you’re on the bus will munch through your data in no time, but these apps use little to no data in the background. The apps that are, such as WhatsApp, Facebook and emails, generally use very small amounts of it to receive messages and notifications.

If you’re keeping an eye on what you use you’ll soon be able to see if any rogue apps are leeching too much of your precious data. Once identified you can take steps by either uninstalling the app or prevent them accessing data through your settings. It makes more sense to cut some apps off rather than turn off your data entirely.

What do you use your mobile data for?

Messaging friends (27%, 33 Votes)

Internet browsing (21%, 25 Votes)

Emails (18%, 22 Votes)

Social media (14%, 17 Votes)

News (11%, 13 Votes)

Navigation (5%, 6 Votes)

Tethering (3%, 4 Votes)

Watching videos (1%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 121

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Also, with the introduction of The Digital Economy Act mobile phone customers will be able to ask their network to set a monthly cap on their bill. This means you won’t be charged more than the agreed amount.

How much mobile data do you have?

To make the most of your data you need how much of it you have to start with – contracts range from 250MB to 40GB and some even offer unlimited. I discovered that my own mum had unlimited data and she still turned her data off when she went out because she thought she wouldn’t be able to access wi-fi. However, if your settings allow it, your phone will always connect to wi-fi when it can.

Regardless which end of the data spectrum you fall, you should keep an eye on how much you’re using. It’s possible you’re paying for more data than you need or you’re cutting it fine every month and you should get more gigabytes next time you upgrade.

However much you have, make the most of it and don’t be worried about turning it off when you leave the house. Of course, if leaving the house exposes you to patchy data coverage, you may want switch to a provider offering a better service in your area.

Making the most of mobile data

If you’d rather not take out a more expensive contract with more data, there may be some things you can do to help your current usage and avoid being worried about turning it off when you leave the house.

Some tips to save mobile data:

  • Stop your emails automatically updating – Your email app checks for new emails every few minutes. You can change that. This setting means it will only look for emails when you open the app. Also make sure that your email app doesn’t download attachments by default.
  • Change your video quality – As nice as it is to watch videos in full HD you don’t really need to see every individual strand of fur on a cat as it falls to a kitchen counter. Change your quality down to 480p and it will still look good on a small screen. On YouTube, for example, you’ll find a three dots in the corner of the video. Press them to change its resolution.
  • Check your downloads – Most apps that allow you to download content, such as the Google Play Store or App Store, or audio streaming services like Spotify, can be set to only download over wi-fi. This is particularly important if these apps are set to download updates automatically.
  • Download for offline – Some apps, like Google Maps and Google Translate, allow you to download commonly used content to use offline. Similarly, look for apps that work offline – these may take up more space on your phone, but you won’t be using data on the move.

What are your data behaviours? Do you find yourself running out of data towards the end of every month? Let us know if you have a plan for managing your usage and we’ll share ours.


My main use of mobile data is for tethering, so that I can use my laptop as normal when away from home. I have a monthly allowance of 5GB which is usually more than adequate but have sometimes switched off mobile data when nearing my usage limit. It has probably been an unnecessary precaution but better safe than sorry. It’s a great help that most people that I visit have a wireless router and that saves using mobile data.

I would like to see an end to the high charges for exceeding the usage allowance and customers charged fairly. I suggest charging 10% extra if you use 10% more than your allowance.

Please could the poll be sorted out? Most people use their phones for more than one purpose but it’s currently not possible to select more than one option.

Morning @wavechange. I’m amazed 5GB is adequate if you’re mainly using your data for tethering. I feel like I’d really wear my measly 4GB down if I tried to work on Google Docs or listen to 6Music over the internet. Argument for working offline if ever there was one. What do you tether your laptop to your mobile for when you’re away from home if you don;t mind me asking?

Dean, I used to manage on 1GB/month when I was tethering and before I had home broadband.

That was adequate for emails, web surfing and keeping one or two PCs up-to-date with software updates, but large software downloads (e.g. variants on “linux_flavour_of_the_week_amd64.iso”) and media streaming would have been out of the question.

I’ve just added tethering to the poll above and made it multiple choice… @derekp, @wavechange you know what you gotta do 🙂

Good morning Dean. I tether my laptop to an iPhone 5S. For a couple of months I had unlimited data on a new Vodafone contract and made very good use of this after moving home and waiting for fibre broadband to be installed in the area. At times I would love a higher data allowance, for example to watch TV.

For years before I had a smartphone, I used a Three MiFi for mobile broadband. The SIMs cost about £50 (from eBay) and did not expire for a year unless the allowance had been used. The MiFi had various advantages but tethering to the phone saves having another gadget.

I guess I’m different from many people. I don’t listen to music on the move, apart from in the car. I use software installed on the computer rather than Google Docs, etc.

Thanks for updating the poll Dean. It now allows several options to be chosen (square rather than round buttons) but responding produces a message that only one option can be chosen. 🙁

My £40 smartphone is mostly used for internet browsing and google maps. When I’m out and about, I can happily manage without email, YouTube etc.

That having been said, O2 will normally text me if I get close to exceeding my data allowance, so I can then turn off data if I want to.

In the past, when I used my phone for tethering PCs, I did sometimes approach or exceed my limit.

I get a similar reminder from EE @derekp, only, when I receive the ‘ you’ve used up 80% of your data allowance’ SMS, the other 20% seems to disappear in double quick time. Grrr!

Dean, a cynical person might be tempted to think that they actually DO want you to go into excess charges, so they deliberately delay any warnings sent out to you.

I’ve noticed that data allowance seems to disappear faster as you get near the limit. It’s just because we worry about the consequence of going over the limit, and for good reason. On a couple of occasions I have turned off all the apps when on holiday and then had to turn some of them on again very soon after.

I had previously been frustrated by this – I do have the warning set up on my phone but found that I was getting close every month. Looking at the apps that use the most data, I discovered it was the news app I often browse on the train. My solution? Grab the day’s news from my home wi-fi and save it to Pocket – a really useful app that lets you download stuff to read later. A useful tip if anyone’s in the same situation.

Phil says:
18 August 2017

I am with Tesco mobile … BRILLIANT !
A few days ago I had my bill emailed to me – £17 higher than it should have been. Contacted them and asked what my payment cap was on my account, they replied that it is £2.50p … when I informed them of my latest bill they immediately apologised and refunded me all £17.
Thank You Tesco.

Nice result Phil.

I do not have Data on my phone at all as I am prepared to wait until I have WI FI available to access anything that needs Data My phone is a phone unless WI FI available not a mobile computer

I’m on PAYG with Tesco and my experience tells me that if I leave my data on I pay much much much more that if I leave it off and only turn it on as and when I need it. The rest of the time it’s wi-fi or nothing.

I only use my smartphone for wifi at home & even then it is difficult because I have to use a boostbox . But that does not always work because the local wireless enabled ( Fibre WIFI Ltd) village system does not have enough speed when the kids come home from school & some other busy times, or in bad weather. It often drops to 4Kb & at best runs at 12Kb ( or whatever the units are supposed to be)
My O2 account has a small data allowance so I took the 1 year data sim out of my Ipad (I had not used all the data on it) which I use on my boat for some sailing trips but it somehow conflicts with O2 because it is 3 & not O2 so I usually have to have it disabled except for special use.
To be honest i find the whole ” smart phone” experience a waste of time