10 Tips to Reduce iPhone & iPad Personal Hotspot Data Usage

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Personal Hotspot is one of the best features of an iPhone and iPad, so you can share the devices’ 3G or 4G LTE internet connection up with five other connected devices over Wi-Fi, be it Macs, iPads, iPods or PCs. Personal hotspot can be a mobile users and teleworkers dream, but tethering an internet connection can also eat through expensive hotspot data plans extremely quickly. Avoid additional costs and reduce overall data usage when tethering with these handy tools tips:

1) Monitor data usage on iPhone or iPad

The first thing you’ll want to do is keep an eye on how much data you’re using. The easiest way to do this is directly on the iOS device sharing the internet connection via Personal Hotspot:

  • Open Settings and tap “General”, then tap “Usage”
  • Scroll down and tap “Cellular Usage” and look for “Cellular Network Data” sent and received, make a note of this, or better yet, tap “Reset Statistics” at the start of a new tethering session so you can track data usage per hotspot session

You can also monitor data usage through AT&T and Verizon, although they don’t seem to update that often, so they may not be the most reliable method of viewing data.

2) Monitor data and network usage on a Mac

Use a free desktop-based bandwidth monitor like SurplusMeter, it’s located in your Mac menu bar and keeps an eye on data usage for you. Use this in conjunction with viewing data usage directly on the iOS device for best results as there may be some discrepancies and it is always better to be careful with Personal Hotspot to avoid overcharging.

3) Close or disable desktop apps with push notifications

OS X Mail constantly checks for emails in the background and stops when the app is not in use. Mac OS X Menu bar apps such as Gmail Notifier and Facebook Notifier constantly ping their servers to look for updates. Quit these apps while using the iOS Hotspot. If it is getting updates and it is not 100% needed for the work at hand, close the app or at least disable or delay the update to consume less data.

4) Turn off iCloud and Dropbox sync

Temporarily disable cloud sync apps like Dropbox and iCloud, otherwise they will continue to sync changes to their respective servers, slowly dropping out your allotted mobile data plan. You can pause syncing from Dropbox by pulling down the Dropbox menu and selecting the ‘Pause sync’ option and turning off iCloud syncing features:

  • Open System Preferences and click on iCloud
  • Clear all check boxes next to all iCloud choices

Don’t forget to restore these options once you are back on a normal Wi-Fi network.

5) Turn off automatic Mac OS X software update downloads

Keep software up to date is a major general overhaul tip, but turn it off when you’re not on a network with enough bandwidth:

  • Open System Preferences and click on “Software Update”
  • Uncheck the box next to ‘Download updates automatically’

You can also go a step further and turn off scheduled update checks completely on the same options screen.

6) Disable Chrome and Firefox automatic updates

Chrome and Firefox often release updates and both apps will automatically download and update themselves in the background. While they are useful on a normal internet connection, these can easily blow up 20MB to 100MB of data, which will disable automatic app updates for your web browser and you will certainly save some bandwidth.

7) Listen to music from the local iTunes library instead of Pandora, Spotify or streaming services

Avoid streaming music services while using Wi-Fi Hotspot and listen to your local iTunes music library instead. If you have a MacBook Air with limited disk space and you don’t have much music library there, just connect your iPhone to the Mac and play music from there via iTunes. Streaming audio requires a large amount of bandwidth, avoid it as much as possible.

8) Watch non-HD video and movies

HD video might look better by leaps and bounds, but it consumes so much bandwidth that if you’re not careful you can go through a monthly data plan after watching a single movie or two. Ideally, you’ll avoid watching video on a hotspot connection completely, but if you absolutely have to watch something, go for the low-definition version and save hundreds of MB of data. You can usually switch from HD to SD directly on a YouTube or Vimeo video page or embed, and you can choose to watch lower quality video through apps such as iTunes.

9) Wait for downloads and streaming

Downloading apps, files, or streaming something takes tons of data, get in the habit of doing things that aren’t absolutely necessary. Do you have a new app you want to download? Wait to use Wi-Fi. Want to watch a new episode of your favorite show from the ABC or PBS app? Wait until you have a less limited WiFi connection. Also, don’t download updates from the Mac App Store and Steam.

10) Use a data compression and monitoring app

Onavo is a data compression app that runs in the background on an iPhone, currently only for AT&T iPhones, but it claims it can double or triple the amount of data you can transfer due to its effective compression. You will likely notice reduced picture and audio quality while using the app, and currently no streaming VoIP or video services are working, but if you don’t mind, it can help reduce data usage. Onavo is free in the App Store for iPhone.

Reminder: Re-enable settings when back on normal Wi-Fi

When you return to normal high network, don’t forget to re-enable all settings, sync services, updates and others features you are disabled while on the go with Personal Hotspot, otherwise your apps versions may be lagging and you may miss some critical security updates.

Bonus Tips:

  • For Mac OS X, check network connections with Private Eye
  • View open network connections with a GeekTool script
  • List all open internet connections with lsof
  • Use an ad blocking plugin for your web browser of choice
  • Use RSS reader apps to delete web content

Have one tips reduce bandwidth? Let us know in the comments!

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