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7 ways to curb your iPhone's cellular data use

Ben Patterson | June 26, 2015
Sure, four (or six, eight, or more) gigabytes of cellular data probably sounded like a lot when you first signed up for your iPhone data plan. But thanks to the latest data-hungry iOS apps and features, a GB of mobile data isn't what it used to be.

So imagine my surprise when a rare text alert from my carrier landed on my phone a day or so later: somehow, we'd used more than 90 percent of our cellular data for the month. What happened?

Well, turns out the podcast apps on our iPhones hadn't gotten the memo about being careful with bandwidth, and they dutifully downloaded a fistful of new podcasts--yes, including several lengthy video episodes. Oops.

Moral of the story: Make sure your podcast manager of choice only downloads new podcasts over Wi-Fi, not cellular.

For the iOS Podcasts app, tap Settings, scroll down to Podcasts, then flip on the "Only Download on Wi-Fi" setting.

Don't see a similar setting for your favorite podcast app? You can always block its cellular access. Tap Settings, Cellular, find your podcast app in the big list of apps, and flip off its cellular switch.

Careful when using Personal Hotspot

Turning your iPhone into a portable hotspot makes for a great way to keep your laptop connected while you're on the go--and it's also a recipe for a jumbo-sized wireless bill.

Unless you tell your desktop or notebook PC otherwise, it'll assume it's using a no-limit Internet connection, leaving it free to download massive system and app updates, grab file attachments from your email provider, sync your Dropbox and Google Drive folders, and perform any number of data-hogging activities.

The good news is that newer iMacs and MacBooks will automatically cool it when it comes to giant system updates over your iPhone's mobile hotspot. Similarly, if you're using Windows 8 or better, you can designate your Personal Hotspot as a "metered connection"; just open the Settings panel on the right side of the screen, click the Network icon, right-click the name of your mobile hotspot and select "Set as metered connection."

That said, even the "metered connection" flag won't stop your laptop from syncing, say, those massive video files in your Dropbox, or pinging Outlook for new messages and attachments every five minutes.

Make sure to pause any file-syncing apps on your desktop before you connect using your iOS Personal Hotspot, and consider using a web client for checking email. Users of iTunes on the desktop should look out for automatic podcast, music, and video downloads. And yes--previous warnings about Neflix, YouTube, and other video-streaming services still apply.

You can use the Activity Monitor app on your Mac to keep an eye on your data usage--just make sure the Network tab is selected. On a Windows 8 or better PC, you can check watch your bandwidth by right-clicking your data connection and selecting "Show estimated data usage."


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