How to Reduce Your iPhone’s Cellular Data Usage
Not everyone has unlimited cellular data. If you find yourself going over your cellular data allowance and paying overage charges or getting throttled, you can make your iPhone use less data.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to micromanage any of this stuff. But we don’t all live in that world yet, and there are many ways to reduce the data your phone is using.
Check Your Data Usage
To check your cellular data usage, open the Settings app on your iPhone and tap the Cellular category. Scroll down and you’ll see an amount of data displayed for the “Current Period.” This period doesn’t automatically reset every month, so the data usage you see displayed here may be a total from many months. This amount only resets when you scroll to the bottom of this screen and tap the “Reset Statistics” option.
You can also see the amount of cellular data used by your apps for the period since you’ve reset them. This will tell you exactly which apps are using that data — either while you’re using them, or in the background. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom to see the amount of data used by the “System Services” built into iOS.
Restrict Apps From Using Cellular Data
You can choose to restrict individual apps from using cellular data. Just flip the switch next to an app on this screen. They’ll be allowed to use Wi-Fi networks, but not cellular data. Open the app while you only have a cellular data connection and it will behave as if it’s offline.
Disable Cellular Data
For a very extreme solution, you can head to the Cellular screen and toggle the Cellular Data switch at the top to Off. You won’t be able to use cellular data again until you re-enable it. This may be a good solution if you need to use cellular data only rarely, or if you’re nearing the end of the month and you want to avoid potential overage charges.
You can also disable cellular data while roaming from here.
Use Per-App Options
Different apps include their own options for controlling when cellular data is used. For example, you can prevent the App Store from automatically downloading content and updates while your iPhone is on cellular data, forcing it to wait until you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. Open the Settings screen and tap iTunes & App Store to access these options.
If you use the built-in Podcasts app, you can tell it to only download new episodes on Wi-Fi. Open the Settings app, scroll down, and tap Podcasts to access these options. Other apps will often have their own options for minimizing what they do with cellular data and waiting for Wi-Fi networks.
Disable Background App Refresh
Apple now allows apps to automatically update and download content in the background. This feature can harm battery lifeand cause apps to use cellular data, even while you’re not using them. Disable background app refresh and an app will only use data when you open it, not in the background.
To access these options, open the Settings app, tap General, and tap Background App Refresh. Toggle apps to off if you don’t want them to refresh in the background, or disable the background app refresh feature for every app on your phone.
Disabling push notifications can also save a bit of data, although push notifications are rather tiny.
Disable Mail, Contacts, and Calendar Sync
By default, your iPhone is set up to automatically receive new emails, contacts, and calendar events. If you use a Google account, it’s regularly checking the servers for new information. Either way, it’s downloading those emails as soon as they’re available.
If you’d rather check your email on your own schedule, you can. Open the Settings app, tap Mail, Contacts, Calendars, and tap Fetch New Data. You can adjust options here to get new emails and other data “manually.” Your phone won’t download new emails until you open the Mail app.
Reduce Web Browser Data Usage
There’s a good chance you do quite a bit of web browsing on your phone. You can reduce the data used by your web browser by using a browser with a built-in data compression proxy, like Google Chrome or Opera — sorry, Apple’s own Safari browser doesn’t offer this feature. Enable the data saver feature and web pages you visit will be sent to Google or Opera’s servers first, where they’re compressed and sent to your phone. They’ll be smaller downloads, so you’ll save data on your normal browsing activities. For security reasons, secure HTTPS websites won’t be sent through the proxy. In Chrome, open the Settings screen, tap Bandwidth, and enable the Data Saver option to take advantage of this.
A similar — but more extreme — option is using a VPN solution that specializes in data compression. All the Internet traffic on your iPhone can be sent over this VPN, so you won’t just get the benefit in one browser app — you’ll get it in every app.
Cache Data Offline
Prepare ahead of time and you won’t need to use quite as much data. For example, rather than using Spotify or another music service to stream music to your phone, cache those music files for use offline using the app first. Rather than stream podcasts, download them before you leave your home. Rather than browse the web, queue up some interesting articles in Pocket and have them cached offline on your phone so you can read them on the go without data usage.
If you need maps, try using a mapping app that can cache a map for your local area offline and possibly even provide offline navigation instructions, saving you the need to download map data. Think about what you need to do on your phone and figure out if there’s a way to have your phone download the stuff ahead of time.