How to Save on Your Smartphone Bill: Track Data Usage ... Painlessly

How to Cut Your Smartphone Data Bill
How to Cut Your Smartphone Data Bill

Data congestion on wireless networks has gotten so bad that carriers are taking fresh steps to curb bandwidth hogs' enthusiasm. This week, Verizon (VZ) revealed it had begun throttling back delivery speeds for its top 5% of its 3G data customers. AT&T (T) is expected to make a similar move starting in early October, according to PCWorld. The move, according to the computer magazine, is aimed at pushing more customers into slightly more expensive tiered data plans, rather than the unlimited plans.

As smartphone use explodes, carriers are increasingly pushing customers into these tiered-pricing data plans, which are often bundled with a voice minutes-usage plan. A startup called Onavo is bringing a much-needed layer of transparency to data-use, and gives consumers a free way to monitor how much they use -- and help them make informed decisions about how much to spend on a plan.

"You get this ecosystem [like a smartphone or tablet], where you are using a lot of apps, but you don't really know what you are using," says Onavo founder and CEO Guy Rosen. Prices can range from $15 a month for limited data plans on AT&T to nearly $40 a month for an unlimited plan at T-Mobile. offers a tool to compare data plans.

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The Onavo app works with both Apple's (AAPL) iPhone and Google's (GOOG) Android operating systems. It measures how data is being used on a smartphone, and compresses data to minimize data usage. The top data guzzlers? Try those cute kitten videos on YouTube. When it comes to streaming media traffic, YouTube alone accounts for a massive 40% of data consumption. Another big data hog are app downloads -- like Angry Birds or WordsWithFriends -- which represent 13% of iPhone data usage in the United States, according to Onavo.

Rosen says that teaching people to better understand their personal data consumption -- like how many megabytes that streaming music video is really using -- is a necessary part of educating modern-day digital citizens. As many city-dwellers know, data congestion is a growing problem: Signals drop, emails take minutes to download, and even lightweight SMS messages can get stalled. To meet the growing bandwidth demands of smartphones, big carriers are investing in expensive wireless broadband networks, like 3G, 4G and LTE -- and those costs are increasingly underwritten by pricier data plans. Adding to the problem are inefficient apps: Many apps aren't necessarily optimized for mobile devices (though that is changing), says Rosen.

"Overcharges are expensive," says Rosen. "We need something that makes it clear and easy for the masses [to understand data usage.]"

Five Tips to Minimize and Save on Smartphone Data

1. Say no to downloading apps on the go. Instead, use your home computer to get your apps and songs. Onavo says that can save up to 10% of data usage right there.

2. Use manual settings for email. If your phone has the "push" setting on, it is constantly updating and looking for new email, which is a data drain. Change to manual and only get email when you want it.

3. Use mobile versions of websites. These sites are data-streamlined for smartphones. Instead of typing www before the address, type m.

4. Measure and compress your data. Use an app like Onavo to monitor your data usage and compress the data from the apps that are running.

5. Watch streaming video on Wifi networks rather than wireless broadband. Those data-heavy videos could send you way over your 2GB limit if you're not careful.

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