Fairfax Media

Don’t get sucked down the data drain these holidays

Understanding how you can get your data usage under control will save you from skyrocketing bills

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 December, 2016, 11:55am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 December, 2016, 1:24pm

By Alex Kidman

Most of the time we go about our day-to-day life giving scant thought to our data usage. It’s just the regular day-to-day usage, boring and predictable. However, when we’re on holidays, the way we use smartphones and tablets changes dramatically, and that can lead to unpleasant surprises when the mobile bill arrives. You’re just getting over the sunburn and that final night party when the real shock sets in and you’re left weeping over your credit card.

That’s because when we go on holidays, we tend to shift from productivity tasks to more intense data-chewing entertainment activities. To double up on our usage, many of us also share our precious devices with our children. That’s particularly likely if you’re trying to keep them quiet in an airport or on a long road trip.

However, unless you change plans, your data allowance remains the same over the summer holidays. If you’re going away in the next few weeks, the chances are high that your data usage will rocket, and with it your data bill.

The first step to keep your data drain under control is to understand how you’re using up your data. Everything you do on your phone that involves going onto the Internet uses up data. Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube: they all need data.

While the ultimate solution is to stop using apps, let’s be realistic here. We all know that’s not going to happen. Here’s what you can realistically do to avoid blowing your data cap these holidays:

1. Tap into free Wi-Fi (safely)

Free Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more and more common in popular holiday destinations, allowing you easy data access even if you’ve got data roaming disabled. If you can, try to wait until you’re in a free Wi-Fi zone, such as Australia’s currently free Telstra Air hotspots if you’re a Telstra customer, to upload those holiday photos or chat to your family via WhatsApp. But make sure you never do any sensitive tasks like online banking from a public hotspot.

2. Download rather than stream shows and music

The good news here is that Netflix recently launched offline viewing for its iOS and Android mobile apps. This means you can download many of your favourite shows and movies over Wi-Fi, to watch later without needing an internet connection. So before you leave the house for your holiday, download a bunch of shows that’ll keep you and the kids entertained till your next Wi-Fi pit stop. The same is true for music, because you can load up a phone or tablet with plenty of your own tunes rather than relying on a mobile stream to keep the holiday party going.

3. Kill apps running in the background

Apps are sneaky. Many of them keep running in the background even when you’re not using them. For instance, if you open up a maps app like Google Maps or Apple Maps to check where you’re going, the app will keep running and keep using your mobile data to work out where you are right now. That’s helpful if you’re worried about getting lost, but a waste of data otherwise. Closing the app properly will stop that data drain and save battery power as well.

4. Get a holiday SIM

If you’re travelling overseas, this is almost always your best move. Roaming charges aren’t as bad as they used to be, but they can still stack up very easily, especially if you don’t arrange a roaming pack before you travel. Pick up a prepaid SIM from the country you’ll be visiting or buy a travel SIM. They usually offer calls, text and data at a significantly lower rate than your incumbent carrier.

The Top 5 Data Drains

1. Video streaming (Netflix, YouTube): 1GB/hour (SD) 3GB/hour (HD) 7GB/hour (UltraHD)

2. Music streaming (Spotify, Apple Music): 50-100MB/hour

3. Sharing holiday moments on social media: 10-100MB/hour

4. Looking up things to do online / Maps navigation: 10-50MB/hour

5. Gaming (Pokémon Go, Clash of Clans): 1-100MB/hour

Alex Kidman is tech and telco editor for comparison site finder.com.au.

Don’t get sucked down the data drain these holidays