How to reduce smartphone data bill shock

Mobile data has gotten amazingly cheap in the past year. You can now get over 5GB of data on a postpaid plan for less than $100 and there are prepaid plans from newcomers like Red Bull Mobile and Amaysim that come with an astonishing 4GB of data for a $40 recharge.

But even so considering most things you do on a smartphone use up data it can be all too easy to use up that generous monthly allowance without realising it. This isn’t a problem limited to power users either — many first-time smartphone users aren’t even aware of how much data things like YouTube streaming and talking on Skype use up until they get their first phone bill.

The big three mobile carriers charge 25c for every megabyte that you go over your monthly allowance which isn’t too bad if you keep an eye on your usage throughout the month. But if you’re not careful you could be in for a rude shock once your bill comes in the mail to the tune of hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of excess usage charges.

There are lots of ways you can monitor your data usage and also minimise the amount of data your smartphone is using. All carriers have online portals where you can check how much data you’ve used that month although the usage displayed there can be up to 24 hours behind. There are other ways to check usage depending on who your carrier is.

Telstra users have it the easiest; once you reach 80% of your monthly limit you automatically get an SMS sent to you and you get another one once you reach 100%. Vodafone users can either call 1512 or send a blank text to that number to find out what your data balance is while Optus offers both iOS and Android apps that let you check your usage — and according to an Optus rep we spoke to recently the company will soon be rolling out SMS usage alerts similar to Telstra’s.

There are third-party apps available that can keep an eye on your data usage as well. DataMan Pro is one of the better apps for iOS with real-time alerts that appear once you go over any one of the four thresholds. Since it uses the iPhone’s usage statistics rather than your carrier’s there’s no time delay for reported usage like there is when you use your carrier’s portal. 3G Watchdog Pro is the equivalent app for Android users with cool extras like widgets advanced usage prediction and the ability to factor in specific billing rules like not including uploads or billing by blocks of data.

When it comes to minimising 3G data usage on your smartphone all the usual tips apply such as switching over to Wi-Fi whenever you can and turning off notifications (for iOS) and background data and auto-sync (for Android). You can also minimise the data used in specific applications using the excellent Onavo app (for iOS and Android) which manages this by compressing data before it’s downloaded to your smartphone.