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Tips for Watching Your Data Usage

By Adam Z. Lein January 21, 2011, 10:43 am

Now that many carriers are offering more frugal yet limiting data plans to their customers, people are worrying a lot more about how much data usage their phones are using. We've seen this recently especially with Windows Phone 7 since it was revealed that a "third party solution" is using larger-than-expected amounts of data. Here's a few tips that might help you manage your data usage in order to keep from getting overage charges.

  1. Use you're service provider's data usage account monitor.

    Many phones come with an app on the device that lets you monitor usage for your account. If your phone does not have an app like this, some networks also have dial-codes that you can use to see your current data usage. On AT&T, try dialing *data#.

  2. Make sure apps are downloaded over WiFi. Windows Phone 7 will force you to download very large applications over WiFi as an attempt to keep your 3G data usage from going over its limits, however there's a bug in this: Mark Jonson mentions on a MobilityDigest post that:

    What I've found is that which has been reported by a few other users, the phone will begin downloads of large apps (over 20 MB) only when connected to a PC or Wi-Fi. However, if you begin such a download then manage to disconnect from Wi-Fi (by letting the screen lock and 45 seconds elapse, or by actually moving out of Wi-Fi range) the phone will continue downloading the app. With some of the Xbox Live games, this could easily account for 100+ MB.

    If you run into this bug, you can tap & hold on the app in the "downloads" list view of the Marketplace and choose "Pause". This will keep the app from downloading, and you can resume its install when you have reconnected to a WiFi access point.

  3. Use the Cellular Data connection switch. On most Windows Phone 7's, if you go to Settings > Cellular, you'll see a switch for Data Connection On/Off. This is a very easy way to make sure that no part of your phone will ever be using your service provider's data connection. So say you've got a 200 Mb/month plan on AT&T and your account says you've used 190Mb so far, turn the Cellular data switch off for the remainder of the month and you won't have to worry about going over your plan's usage allotment. WiFi will still work for your downloading needs, of course.

  4. Remove Live Tiles that you don't need. Some people (such as Anthony Pham in yesterday's post) are thinking that the HTC Hub is responsible for the phantom excessive data usage some users are reporting. The HTC Hub is pinned to your start screen by default if you've got an HTC branded Windows Phone 7 and it does have Live Tile automatic update capabilities, so it is very possible that this program is frequently connecting to the internet and downloading weather update information. It's also currently not possible to shut off or configure the HTC Hub's live tile update interval or connection. (UPDATE: The download schedule in the HTC Hub Settings seems to affect the Live Tile update schedule.) Most other apps that include a Live Tile have options for enabling/disabling live tile updates or setting a less-frequent update interval. For example, I love the Weatherbug Live Tile since it shows the current weather on my Start screen, but it doesn't need to be downloading updates every 30 minutes. I set its update interval to the maximum 4 hours instead in order to lower its data usage without completely losing its usefulness.

  5. Turn off "as items arrive" for your email accounts. Push email is great, but having a half dozen email accounts that are ALWAYS downloading emails whenever they arrive can be tolling both on your data usage and your battery life. I keep push email on, only for one or two important email accounts and set the others to "Manually" so that everything isn't always updating, but I can still check my other email accounts when I actually want to see if there are any new messages there. You can find the email accounts send/receive interval options in Settings> "email & accounts" and then select the account you want to change.

  6. Change the Phone Update settings. If you go to Settings > Phone Update, you'll see an option for "Use my cellular data connection to check for updates". If you uncheck that option, you'll be using slightly less data on your data plan.

  7. Change the "Find My Phone" settings. It may not be a good idea to do this if you tend to lose your phone sometimes, but in Settings > Find My Phone, you can shut off its options for uploading your phone's location data to Windows Live.

  8. Turn off Feedback. Under Settings> Feedback there's an option to send feedback to help improve Windows Phone. There's a switch for ON/OFF and a checkbox to "Use my cellular data connection to send feedback." I would shut off the cellular data connection option, but leave the feedback option on so that Microsoft can still get error reports when you're on a WiFi connection.

  9. Turn off Automatic picture uploading. If you remember the first time you took a picture in Windows Phone 7, you may have been asked if you want to turn on automatic uploading of pictures to Windows Live SkyDrive. Obviously leaving that on is going to use a lot of your data usage on your account. You can shut it off in Settings > Applications > Pictures + Camera.

  10. Turn off Speech Recognition over the network. One feature that's important for speech recognition for things like Bing searches is the ability for the TellMe service to communicate with their cloud servers. Of course that uses some data, and in Settings> Speech, you can turn that off.


Hopefully if you're concerned about how much data your Windows Phone 7 is using on a limited 3G data plan some of those tips will help you out. Meanwhile, we'll have to wait to see which "third-party solution" that Microsoft is referring to might be using too much of your data without your explicit knowledge.


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