Managing Data Usage On Android

data-usage-iconIf you use a connection that has usage restrictions or charges, then having an understanding of how much data your tablet or phone is using, and what connections it is using is very important.

Smart Phones are all equipped with a mobile connection (GSM, 3G, 4G), and so are some high end tablets.

Both Smart Phones and tablets are equipped with Wi-Fi which is the main connection mechanism when at home or in the office.

Generally because Wi-Fi is much faster than mobile access (3G,4G,cellular) , and doesn’t usually have usage restrictions Wi-Fi is the preferred access mechanism.

Most mobile contracts provide a monthly data allowance.

Generally it is between 500MB and 2GB.

This kind of data allowance is good for email, and web browsing, but not for downloading or streaming music or videos.

Additional data usage is usually charged extra, and can be expensive.

Pay as you go plans charge per MB for data usage.

In addition, some Wi-Fi networks like those in Hotels, and cruise ships have usage restrictions and charges, and so it is important that you understand how to restrict them.

Understanding KiloBytes, Megabytes and GigaBytes

Before we look at how to control your data usage we will first look at how data usage is measured.

Data usage is usually given in KiloBytes, MegaBytes and GigaBytes.

Here is a quick overview of Gigabytes (GB )and Megabytes(MB) and some examples to help you make more sense of it.

First here are the common abbreviations that you will see:

  • KiloBytes= KB or KBytes
  • Megabytes=MB or MBytes
  • GigaBytes= GB or GBytes

!GB =1 Thousand MBs and 1MByte = 1 Thousand Kilobytes.

500KB = 0.5MB and 500MB = 0.5GB

Common Activities and Data Usage

Most people will use a mobile device to:

  1. Send and receive email
  2. Read news on websites and browse the Internet
  3. Use social media like facebook
  4. Download or stream music
  5. Upload photos to social media
  6. Watch Youtube videos
  7. Watch movies on Netflix.

These activities will use considerably different amounts of data and there are many online data calculators that will allow you to calculate your expected data usage based on your usage patterns.

[outline style =”yellow”]However a general rule of thumb is that email and general web surfing requires low amounts of data, whereas watching videos requires large amounts of data.[/outline]

Watching a single Movie on Netflix could easily use all of your monthly data allowance. Here is a screenshot taken from Netflix help.


For YouTube videos the data usage depends on the video resolution, but for higher resolutions the usage is very similar to Netflix.

So with a monthly allowance of 0.5GB you could

  • Send around 5000 emails.
  • Surf the Web for around 30 hours
  • Download stream 12 hours of music.
  • Watch approximately 30 minutes to an hour of video

Calculated using the AT&T usage calculator

What is Background and Foreground Data

Many applications will automatically update without you having to do anything.

The update process might happen while you are reading emails, surfing the net or while the tablet/phone is idle.

It doesn’t make any difference, as the update process happens in the background, and the only time you notice is when you receive a notification informing you that the App has been updated.

When you are watching a youtube video, reading a web page etc, the data being downloaded is sent to the screen, and is known as foreground data.

You need the foreground data, but not necessarily the background data.

For example if an App needs to upgrade does it need to do it now? or can it wait until you have a better connection?

Viewing Your Data Usage

To view what Apps are using data and the data usage on the mobile and W-Fi connection go to Settings>Data Usage.


What you see will depend on the version of Android you are using and whether or not you have a mobile connection.

Below is a screenshot from my Tablet (no mobile data)


Restrictions to Consider

Generally mobile phones/tablets will use a Wi-Fi connection when available in preference to the mobile connection.

They will use the mobile connection only when the Wi-fi connection is not available.

However you can take more control over the data usage by applying usage restrictions.

There are quite a few restrictions that you can apply. Here are the ones you should consider implementing:

Setting a Mobile or Cellular Limit- This allows usage until you reach your limit

Disabling Mobile data- This means that no data will be transferred when connected to the mobile/cellular network. You will need a Wi-Fi connection to connect to the Internet

Turn Off Autosync This stops applications transferring data in the background when not connected using Wi-Fi

Restrict Usage on Mobile Hotspots -This lets you treat designated Wi-Fi networks like mobile networks.

The Google support document has details on how to change these settings.

Common Questions and Answers

Q-  My tablet doesn’t have a mobile connection but I use a Mi-Fi hub to connect to the internet when traveling. Can I restrict access to the hub from the tablet?

A- As far as your tablet is concerned it is connected to a Wi-Fi network and so you will need to restrict access to the Wi-Fi network (Hotspot) provided by the Mi-Fi hub.

Q- If I turn off my mobile data connection will I still receive Whats App messages?

A- No.Whats App requires an Internet connection so unless you are connected to the internet by Wi-Fi then you won’t. See also can I use Whatsapp on a tablet?

Q- I’ve turned off mobile data on my phone can I still make and receive phone calls?

A- Yes phone calls and data are completely separate.


Having an understanding of what activities and Apps consume data, and how much they consume is important if you need to conserve data usage due to data restrictions.

This tends to be more important for mobile connections, but can sometimes also be important for Wi-Fi connections.

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