Almost everything in our lives relies on the internet, from our work, education, entertainment, errands, and communication with our loved ones. When Wi-Fi isn’t available, we use mobile data to stay connected, especially outside our homes. Mobile data isn’t cheap, though, so should we switch it off or leave it on even when not in use?
Turn on mobile data only when Wi-Fi is absent, or the signal is weak. If you’re always on the go, but don’t have consistent access to Wi-Fi, turn on mobile data to stay connected and reply to emails or make phone calls. When you don’t need mobile data or are home, switch it off to save on data.
Understanding why and when you need mobile data remains a necessary part of your budgeting process when considering phone plans and daily online habits. Keep reading as we discuss in detail when to switch on or off your mobile data.
Mobile Data vs. WiFi
The digital world runs on ones and zeros, also called binary code. Bits of information can be encoded in binary and sent via electrical signals through circuits and radio waves. Every digital file is made of binary code, from photos and videos to audio and text.
Home or business Wi-Fi Routers consist of both digital and physical infrastructure. The digital infrastructure includes the information itself. As for the physical infrastructure that you use and may or may not perceive, they include the following:
- Buttons you click
- Circuits carrying signals locally
- Radio waves carrying signals farther away
- Towers receiving and sending these signals
- Devices you use to both interpret and create them
On the other hand, mobile or cellular data allows you to send and receive this information through your phone carrier’s servers when Wi-Fi is unavailable.
Mobile Data vs.WiFi on Your Smartphone
A Wi-Fi network and data plan allow you to do the same thing on your smartphone and use the internet wirelessly. However, the Wi-Fi you are accessing is from another source than your phone, like your home or work Wi-Fi network.
The Mobile Data you are using on your smartphone is passing through the Smartphone itself and its router or, as they are called, a Baseband Processor or (BP).
This differentiation can be confusing to many people because the most you see on your smartphone is a Wi-Fi button to turn on or off under settings. Most don’t know where it comes from or care.
Is Mobile Data More Expensive Than WiFi? It Depends
Most phone plans contain a data plan, and many have explicit limits, such as 500 megabytes or 6 gigabytes per month, whereas some more expensive plans promise “unlimited” data. Many providers enforce a data cap on unlimited plans, and you will have to pay an additional charge or endure excruciatingly slow, impractical, throttled data speeds if you surpass an explicit or implicit limit.
Essentially, how much you pay depends on how much data you use and at what speed. You’ll pay more for a higher data limit to get a practical data speed. On the other hand, an (ISP) or Internet Service Plan can be based on the download speed, not the amount of data you use. You can use this free online Smartphone Data Calculator to figure out what you need.
So while both Wi-Fi and mobile data will give you access to the internet, using mobile data all the time will probably increase your phone bill and run you out of data faster, whereas using Wi-Fi all the time generally won’t increase your internet bill. The more Mobile Data you use, the more likely it is to be throttled depending on the congestion of the carrier’s network.
What about the speed of your internet connection? You cannot discuss a connection of a Broadband and Mobile Data and an (ISP) Internet Service Provider for a Home or Business Wi-Fi connection without discussing (Mbps) Megabytes Per Second or (Gbps) Gigabytes Per Second.
The reason you cannot discuss it is that it is at the center of all internet connections and integral to your experience of use of the internet on whatever device you are using, like a smartphone, desktop, or laptop computer.
On the most basic description of internet user experience, download speed is what you perceive. Whatever you are looking at on the internet is happening quickly or slowly is because of the download speed. There are many more factors, but for this discussion, it is download speeds. Some companies “Throttle” or slow down the speed, and some do not.
*Verizon broadband data speed throtteling – “On certain plans, we may prioritize your 5G Nationwide and 4G LTE data behind other traffic.”Important Information About Verizon Wireless Broadband Internet Access Services
Cox says they never throttle internet speeds, and they say to do an internet speed test to verify their claim:
“We can’t guarantee that the results of the speed test will match your service because of the external factors that impact your speed, like your devices’ hardware and operating systems. The device (phone, laptop, etc.) used with the tool can play a very important role since devices can have varying max speeds (most hardwired devices are limited to 940 Mbps due to port limitations). Other factors include the browser which you use to run the speed test, processing power of your personal computing equipment, apps running on your computer, the nature and quality of your home network connection, third party networks you may be connected to, and the performance of the websites you visit on the internet.”COX SPEED TEST – Let’s run a quick check-up
When To Use Mobile Data
Mobile data is appropriate for those near a Wi-Fi router or who, perhaps, don’t trust public Wi-Fi routers. The following explains why you should leave your mobile data on:
You’re Far From WiFi
Wi-Fi weakens significantly the farther you are from it. Outside of an about 50-foot (15-meter) zone, your connection will become so weak that you can’t use it. If you want to make a phone call while walking to the store, send a text while in a cab, or stream a song while on a bike ride, mobile data is your best bet.
There’s No WiFi Around
When you’re out of the house, you can’t use your home Wi-Fi. And when you’re outside, Wi-Fi hotspots aren’t always around.
If you need to immediately respond to a family member, boss, or other important people, it may be best to keep your data turned on.
Even if you leave one Wi-Fi network and forget or cannot join a new one, you’ll still promptly receive vital messages. This ability is especially useful during an emergency or traveling far from home.
When To Turn Off Mobile Data
It isn’t always wise to turn it on for all the good mobile data can do for mobile people. From keeping your battery alive to protecting your wallet, here are some reasons to keep mobile data turned off:
You Have Access to WiFi
Your data speed will inevitably slow down after a particular point, no matter what plan you use. Suppose you use gigabytes of data every day for streaming audio and video files, gaming, or any heavy-duty computer information transfer of computer information.
You may eventually reach a point where your mobile data takes forever to load, even an HTML email. Just like with Verizon’s Important Plan Information:
“During times of congestion, your smartphone and mobile hotspot data may be temporarily slower than other traffic (only after 50 GB/mo).”Verizon Support Important Plan Information
To speed it back up before the next billing cycle, you’ll have to buy more data. On the other hand, Wi-Fi will keep giving you a rapid internet connection even after a binge of your favorite film or television series. Therefore, it’s best to save your data for when you’re away from a Wi-Fi router.
You Have a Low Data Limit
Similarly, a tight budget doesn’t mesh well with excess data use. If constrained financially to a cheaper plan with a lower data limit, it makes sense to save that limited data for when you need it.
Your Phone Battery Is Running Low
Internet connections require energy to maintain, even when you aren’t browsing. When you use data, your device might have to search more frequently for a connection or work harder to maintain a connection in a spotty area.
When Wi-Fi is generally more reliable at home, your device typically doesn’t struggle as much to stay connected. Switch off your mobile data if you don’t need it.
Please see some of our other interesting articles like “Why Am I Getting High Mobile Data Use Notifications?” and “How to Lower Your Home Wi-Fi Data Usage.”
How To Reduce Data Usage
We buy data for a reason: it’s convenient and allows us to keep up with our online lives no matter where we are. That doesn’t mean we can’t use it less often to save money and battery life. To save on data usage, do the following:
- Turn on data intermittently. This action is best when you need to check for non-urgent messages.
- Keep mobile data turned off by default. Only turn it on when you’re actively using it and turn it off once you are finished using it.
- Use WiFi only to download important files. Whether it’s a video, email attachment, song, or other files, download it over WiFi (or, if applicable, take a screenshot) before you head out. That way, you can access the file offline.
- Set up data alerts. This process allows you to use less data before you reach your limit.
- Manage your apps. Applications eat up data to sync with servers and stay updated–but only if you give them access. Turn off the cellular data button on the apps to not use your data.
You can also simply use the internet less overall if you don’t need to access information immediately, such as during a night out with friends.
How To Turn Data On or Off
Apple and Android organize their settings differently, and sometimes it can feel convoluted or difficult to navigate. Here’s a guide to changing your data settings based on your phone brand:
On an Android phone, simply:
- Go to Settings > Connections >> Data Usage.
- From here, you can turn your data on and off, see how much data you’ve used and have left, set up notifications, and even see statistics for which app has used the most data.
To manage the app’s access to data:
- Go to Settings.
- Scroll down to Apps.
- Select the app you would like to manage.
- Select Mobile Data to change its data permissions.
There are a couple of options for turning data on and off on an iPhone. You can go to Settings or Control Panel.
To turn off mobile data via Settings, follow these steps:
- Go to Settings.
- Select Cellular to access mobile data options.
To turn off mobile data via Control Panel, follow these steps:
- Go to the home screen and swipe up.
- Tap on the rod-looking button near the WiFi button. When you select the mobile data icon, it should be highlighted green.
To manage apps’ individual data usage, simply:
- Go to Settings > Cellular.
- Scroll down. Each app should be listed.
Mobile data has liberated us from needing to be close to a Wi-Fi router whenever we want to connect to our online lives. It has completely changed our lives and allows us to explore in unprecedented ways.
It’s a convenient tool under the right circumstances, such as when we’re away from home and need to stay in touch. However, it’s still best not to keep mobile data on all the time to avoid exceeding our data limits, save money, and keep our data speeds high.
- Techopedia: What is the difference between mobile data and Wi-Fi?
- Forbes: Wi-Fi Calling Explained: Pros, Cons, and FAQs
- Techopedia: Wireless Network
- Brave Browser: What is cell phone data, and how is it used?
- MobilityArena: Why and when should you turn off mobile data on your device? Your questions answered
- WhistleOut: Mobile Data: Everything You Need to Know
- Medium: Hugo Sanchez: So how do computers actually work?
- Android Authority: A definitive guide to everything that affects smartphone battery life
- Digital Trends: How to reduce data usage on your smartphone
- How-To Geek: How to Turn Off Cellular Data on an iPhone or iPad