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Summary:

Now that AT&T, along with all the providers internationally, have scrapped unlimited data plans and introduced caps, you’ll need to keep an eye on how much data you’re using. Here are a few ways to make sure you don’t end up going over your monthly allowance.

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Now that AT&T, along with all the providers internationally, have scrapped unlimited data plans and introduced caps, you’ll need to keep an eye on how much data you’re actually using. Here are a few ways to make sure you don’t end up going over your monthly allowance.

Checking What You Have Left

First off, make sure you know how to check how much data you have left for the month. On an iPad 3G, you can go to Settings → Cellular Data, then tap View Account. After logging in, you’ll be able to see how much data you have remaining.

On an iPhone, for AT&T customers, dial *DATA# (*3282#) and you’ll be shown on screen your data usage for the current month. You can also go to your account on the AT&T website. For customers on O2 in the UK, you can either download the MyO2 app or visit the MyO2 website. Other customers should visit the website for their provider to find out how to check your data usage.

Reducing the Amount You Use

The first thing you’re going to want to do is try to use Wi-Fi as much as you can to save using 3G data at all. Many places such as Starbucks and McDonalds offer free Wi-Fi, and there are many apps that can help you find others. Some network providers also offer free Wi-Fi with their iPhone and iPad data plans.

If for some reason you don’t have access to any Wi-Fi, the next step is cutting down on everything that automatically checks the Internet, such as Mail. Having your emails checked every 15 minutes is going to rack up a lot of megabytes, especially if you’re the type of person who gets hundreds of emails a week. If you want to go all out with saving data, change the settings of Mail to fetch emails manually. This means that your device will only check for new emails if you open the Mail app. You can set this up by going to Settings → Mail, Contacts, Calendars → Fetch New Data and choosing ‘manually’. If you are unable to cope with emails not coming through automatically, then set a low frequency – 30 minutes or an hour.

If even that doesn’t suit your needs, you can use Push, which, instead of your device checking the server regularly, whenever you get an email, the server will send it to you. This means that you save on some data usage because your device isn’t checking when there are no emails. However, this requires an email service which supports Push, which most don’t. For example, Gmail doesn’t support it, and neither does Windows Live Mail.

Another thing you can do to help is stop using sites which have a lot of images. For example, Flickr will use a lot more data than, say, this site. Visiting Flickr involves loading a lot of images whereas this site is mostly text. By visiting mainly text-based sites you can reduce your data usage a fair amount. Saying that, however, a lot of websites have mobile-friendly versions, such as Facebook and Twitter. They usually have fewer images, and any images they do have are lower resolution, meaning they take less data to load.

Finally, the last resort, when you’re extremely close to going over the limit, is to turn off cellular data altogether. This means it’s impossible to use any more data because you’re not connecting to the network. To do this, load up Settings and go to Cellular Data on the iPad or General → Network on the iPhone. There, you should see a toggle switch labeled ‘Cellular Data’. Switch that to the off position and your device won’t connect to the data network again until you turn it back on. The benefit of using this over Airplane Mode is you can still receive texts and calls this way, you just can’t use any data unless you use Wi-Fi.

  1. Of course Gmail supports push. You just have to set up your Gmail as an Exchange account on your phone. http://google.com/sync

    There’s really little reason not to use push, even if you’re not trying to cut down your usage. Though checking an empty mailbox doesn’t really use a significant amount.

    If you want to lower email data usage, your best bet is to build a profile of email important enough to be delivered to your phone. Most of the junk we get each day probably won’t make that cut.

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    1. You can also disable images loading in emails, at least in iOS 4. In Settings -> Mail, switch off the Load Remote Images option.

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  2. I’m not sure about your statement that Gmail doesn’t support push email. On both my iPhone and iPad I have push email with my Google Apps email accounts using the Exchange option.

    In the iOS 4 they now allow more than one Exchange account for email.

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  3. I’m not sure about toggling data on the iPhone. Is that a new feature in OS4?

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    1. Yes, they introduced it in iOS 4.

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  4. Not only Gmail, but even Windows Live Mail a.k.a. Hotmail does have push email via ActiveSync (very soon).

    http://bit.ly/c3FRZc

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  5. do you think that it is smarter to get the 15.00 a month plan or the 25.00 a month plan?

    and also is the plan changing for all 3g at&t customers (the iphone 3gs) or just the iphone 4?

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    1. I’m in the UK so I’m not sure about specific details regarding AT&T plans. I just know that they stopped unlimited plans.

      Regarding which plan to get, it all depends how much you’re going to use your phone. You could work out how much you use it on average per month, then see which plan fits your usage better.

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  6. In conjunction to what has been said here you should also check out this article at http://getyourgadgetsgoing.com/2010/06/13/att-are-their-new-data-plans-really-that-bad/

    Some really helpful stuff. I want everyone to save money. Even if I detest AT&T and would rather convince you to just leave.

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  7. For AT&T customers, the number is actually DATA# (3282#).

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    1. For some reason when I dial “3282#” I get an unknown response error. Am I entering it incorrectly?

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      1. You have to dial *3282#

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    2. That’s what I said…

      “On an iPhone, for AT&T customers, dial DATA# (3282#) and”

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    3. That’s what I said…

      “On an iPhone, for AT&T customers, dial DATA# (3282#) and…”

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  8. I’ve always kept my Mail preferences set to fetch manually, not just to save data, but to extend battery life. I wonder how well that works now with multitasking as the Mail app now stays open when I switch to another app. I’ve been using the phone in a different app altogether and it has received mail. Anyone hear about this issue anywhere else?

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  9. “Having your emails checked every 15 minutes is going to rack up a lot of megabytes, especially if you’re the type of person who gets hundreds of emails a week.”

    Let’s think about this…
    First off, pinging your email provider to see if you have emails does not use data. Not more than anyone cares about.
    Secondly, if you receive hundreds of emails a day, you will still receive all of them whether you’re checking every 5, 10, 20, or 60 minutes.

    You could, though, turn on manual fetching if you do receive 100′s of emails a day and only check when in an WiFi area. That actually would save some data.

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    1. If you get 100s of emails a day, the iPhone only downloads the last 50, so checking less often downloads less emails, if you think about it.

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  10. Great tips, but I was fortunate enough to be able to keep my unlimited plan ;) Although technically it doesn’t make much sense to hold onto it. After checking my usage history I’ve only ever gone over 200MB once!

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