Updated: Feb 18, 2018
In the previous post, we looked at ways that help to cut data roaming charges through device settings, using free WiFi network, selection of apps and using devices correctly. Those factors are more than adequate to keep data roaming usage to minimum — except for an entity that will turn on mobile / cellular data for apps and flush all good measures down the drain. That is none other than the person using the mobile device — YOU!
There are times when having not much things to do on a trip, especially during long hours in public transports with no WiFi, the little devil of you will whisper "just for a short while" into your ears and you will put apps on mobile data and connect to the Internet. You cannot be doing nothing, you are itching to do something that you always do when idle — to be entertained by that mobile phone.
Do a search on Google and you can find hundreds of cases of data roaming usages that ran up exorbitant bills. Almost all of them cited "entertainment" as the main reason for overrunning data limits. Such heavy data usage is usually a result of personal habits that cannot resist the urge to use apps on mobile data.
Find out what are the 6 things, or habits, that you will probably do to jack up data charges when on overseas trips.
1. Browsing Social Media Apps
Are you addicted to social media? Not sure? Do you browse social media feeds every now and then to see what your friends are up to? Do you have burning desires to tell everyone what you are doing every now and then? You can't help not posting a selfie for all to see?
Social media apps are photos and videos intensive. As the saying goes: "A picture is worth a thousand words". Instead of expressing in words, social media users are using photos or videos in almost every post. Simply browsing feeds for couple of days can consume gigabytes of data, especially with videos on auto-play (they are streamed automatically without you tapping the "play" buttons). Not only that, you will want to post your own photos/videos for all to see too.
Do stay off social media apps without WiFi. If you think this habit is tough to suppress, delete all social media apps when travelling. It can serve as a reminder when you reach for the phone when idle and find the apps missing. Instead of having an easy way to turn on mobile data and start browsing, you will need to install the apps first (if you really cannot resist the temptation), which will use another 50-200 megabytes of data. This adds an inconvenience that hopefully can put you off social media when on the trip.
You can re-install the apps after the trip.
2. Watching Videos
Watching movies, dramas or variety shows when in public transports or even when walking around have became an entertainment for most commuters since the birth of 4G. With unlimited data plan, it became very convenient to watch videos online. Launch a video app, pick a video and play, every time when commuting. It became habitual over time.
Video files need a lot of data to download. The size depends on video quality, compression format, bit rate, frames per seconds, lengths, etc. A very rough estimate will be around 20 megabytes for a 5-minutes video on YouTube (with default quality of 480p). Data size increases in multiples with higher resolutions. Whether a video is downloaded and saved as file before being played or steamed online (download and play at the same time), it does not affect the video content that needs to be sent to your device using data. But when the network connection is unstable, more data will be needed to resend missing or corrupted data.
Video-hosting services will not necessarily show the sizes of video files when you steam them online, although they may indicate "HD" or "HQ" for videos with higher resolutions. It is possible that gigabytes of videos are streamed to your device without you realising it.
To save data charges, pre-download videos and watch them offline when on the trip. Some video-hosting services do not allow downloading of videos for offline use, so you will need to find alternative apps that can. When travelling, put video apps on WiFi-only to prevent them from downloading video feeds.
Similarly for songs, pre-download music files to listen offline. Do not stream musics when on the go. Each song can be from 3 to 10 megabytes. If the music files are not cached or saved by the music apps when played, they will be downloaded again when you play it again after several songs.
3. Playing Games
It is easy to get hooked on games, especially if there are game objectives to meet. You probably won't stop playing until those objectives are achieved. To some extent, you may even give up the real purposes of your travels.
Offline games that do not require any network data is preferred when travelling as everything are saved on the device. They are usually simple games. And they should be ads-free too. Displaying ads requires network data. Most gaming apps do not earn from advertisers if you do not tap on the ads banners, so they will launch the full-size ads on your behalf programmatically. They may be earning few cents per-click, but you lose more on data charges.
The most undesirable games are the multiplayer types. These games need to connect to game servers consistently to sync data. You need to know what other players are doing and they need to know your actions too. Megabytes of data are being consumed this way. These games usually take long hours to play and may ruin your travels.
To save on data roaming when travelling but unable to stay off games? Try getting simple offline games instead. Delete games that requires large amount of network data and storage space. You will be able to focus more on the journey this way.
4. Surfing the Net
Technically, surfing net is not a habit. It is usually done to search for information. And why would you surf the Internet when on data roaming? To find information at the eleventh hour, of course. This is the consequence of not planning ahead and resort to last-minute search for information, usually on how to get to the next destination. Not planning for trips before setting off is a bad habit.
Web pages usually contains photos, videos and supporting files. All these need to be downloaded onto your device before web browsers can display them correctly. And you may not find the little piece of information you are looking for until several web pages later. The amount of data used can be tremendous. The information could have been provided free for all but you are paying for it via data charges.
Always plan ahead for any trip, or before setting off for any destination when travelling, with WiFI. Get all the information you need beforehand. Do not simply bookmark a website, getting online is the last thing you should be doing when on data roaming. Note down travel details, cache maps, take screenshots of routes, or download websites as PDF files, etc. With all these information available offline, you will not need to turn on mobile data.
There are 2 chat-messaging habits that we would like to highlight.
Consider a message like this: "Hi, I am on a trip. Do you want to join me?". The message content is 43 bytes. Let's assume that the communication overheads (network protocol, handshaking, etc.) to send the message out is 10 bytes. So, total is 53 bytes.
One. A common messaging habit is to break a message into multiple segments like this:
> I am on a trip
> Do you want to join me?
Without some punctuation marks, the total message content is now 39 bytes. But, 30 overhead bytes is required to deliver the three segments now. Total of 69 bytes used, an increase of 30%! The data used to deliver the same message is actually more. Repeat this for all messages and data will be wasted unnecessarily. If the chat app is closed, there will be more data used by incoming push notifications.
Two. Lazy to type, then just talk. A new trend for chatters is the use of audio instead of typing. Speak into the chat apps and voice messages will be send out. The same message above can be 10-50 kilobytes in audio, depending on the codec used by the chat apps. Break the message into multiple audio segments and add push notifications, the amount of data required will escalate. Note that loud background noises also get sent over as data if you press the record button without talking.
As you see, your messaging habits also affect data usage. Try to send few messages with as much contents as possible and avoid using audio. And it is not just you alone. Chatting is two-way, your chat pals may not want to break out of their habits to help you save data charges. They may even send you photos or videos when chatting without realising that your data roaming charges is more expensive than usual. Instead of telling everyone that you are travelling on expensive data, try chatting only when absolutely necessary.
6. Checking Emails
Why do you need to check emails when travelling on data roaming?
There are not many personal emails these days with the advent of popular social media and chat apps. Even photos are shared through file sharing platforms. Personal mail accounts are usually filled with junks or spams, advertisements and, occasionally, transaction statements. There is no need and no urgency to check for these when travelling on data roaming. The only possibility is work emails.
In most cases, work emails are used to send attachments, so they requires data to download. Some apps will not automatically download attachments unless on requests but most will when the email is read. Due to bad email etiquette, most work emails will contain an image of the company logo. This image will get downloaded multiple times for every email read, including all replies and forwards within the same email.
It could be due to work nature that you need to check emails when on the move or it could be a work habit. But, you take leaves to travel, and it should be expected that you will be unreachable for that period. If you reply readily to every work email, your clients and colleagues will know that you check emails when travelling and they will keep it up for all your future holidays. Do give yourself a break.
Moreover, companies do not allow claims on data roaming charges and prepaid card charges as it is difficult to justify how much data are used between work and personal (if a telco can list out how you use data in details, you will probably sue them for privacy breaches). In other words, you will be paying to work on your travels. So, check emails only when there is WiFi.
Does any of those mentioned above hits home? If yes, do be mindful to avoid using too much data that will increase your travel budget. Keep to these 4 points:
Don't get addicted to social media, videos and games (at least when travelling).
Plan your trips ahead.
Use chat appropriately.
Don't bring work to your holidays.