Ok so this article has been in the pipeline for ages now and i’ve finally got around to posting it. About a month ago i asked on Twitter and Facebook if anyone else was experiencing abnormally high mobile data usage on South African cellular networks and the response was overwhelming. Enough so that radio stations got involved and even the National Complaints Commission said they would launch a full-scale investigation. Initially i thought it was just me doing something wrong, but it quickly became apparent that i wasn’t alone and others were experiencing unexplained data loss or astoundingly high phone bills over the last few months (in my case since July). So i did some investigation, got a call from Vodacom senior management and spoke to some tech people to see if i could find out why there was a sudden increase in mobile data usage.
Here’s a sample of the comments from my Facebook page on the 13 August after asking if others had experienced the same issue.
Obviously something is happening. The response on Twitter was pretty much the same.
Now in my case the problem started in July. I’m on the Vodacom network and for the past few years have bought a pre-paid R99 data bundle that gives me 500MB. It was sufficient to last pretty much the entire month and during heavier use i’d have to buy a new bundle around the 22 day mark. I can’t ever remember having to top up in less than 20 days..well until July this year. It got worse in August when i recieved an alert notification after just 12 days that my bundle was almost finished. And this was with normal usage patterns.
Now several people threw out explanations including the following:
Auto-updates: apps are constantly updated and the size of updates has progressively increased. If you have auto-updates enabled they will obviously consume mobile data in the background assuming you don’t do it over wi-fi. I do not have auto-updates enabled.
Data heavy apps: Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc. all chow data given their media rich content. Lots of talk around autoplay video options on Facebook being recently introduced and that Instagram increased the resolution of pics in July to nearly triple. Instagram did release a statement though that the increase in photo resolution didn’t affect photo size and data consumption. I don’t have Snapchat, follow nobody on Instagram and hardly use Facebook at all.
New mobile devices: newer models are capable of running higher resolution videos and using LTE or 4G. Youtube for example will automatically adjust the quality of the video given your connection speed and device capabililty and if you are on a new device with fast connection it will consume more data. I have not changed my device for the past 2 years and still use 3G or H+.
Windows 10: the new version of Windows was launched at the end of July and came in at a hefty 3GB. If for example you were on 1GB a month data contract and opted to update to Windows 10 you would have used 2GB out-of-bundle and ended up with a huge bill. I did not update to Windows 10.
Auto-switch between wi-fi and mobile network: there is an option on most devices to auto-switch between the strongest signal so if your mobile network signal is stronger than the wi-fi it will use mobile data instead. I do not have this option enabled.
Out-of-bundle rates: if you deplete your bundle and don’t top up your data you will be charged the much higher out-of-bundle rates which at 99c per MB will basically set you back R1000 a gig. I have my device set to alert me when i get near the 500MB limit so never go out of bundle.
So if it wasn’t any of those that consumed my data then what was it.
I did a quick check of my data usage and the Android breakdown shows that most of my data is used by Twitter and my browser which is currently Chrome. Whatsapp and Uber are next, but nothing out of the ordinary so i decided to do some testing on my device to see if i could identify where the data was going and started with a fresh 500MB bundle on the 20th August.
At around the same time i recieved a call from Vodacom wanting to explain a few things. Wasn’t much i didn’t already know, but they did mention one thing which caught my interest. I asked how i can be sure that mobile data isn’t being consumed even though i’m in a wi-fi zone and was told that to be absolutely sure that you don’t use any mobile data you can switch it off while using wi-fi. So i did just that. Manually turned off mobile data every time i was on wi-fi and in the past 14 days i’ve used 322MB. Compared to 596MB in the previous 2 weeks. That’s nearly half the usage.
Mmmmmmmmm. So what does that mean now. Was mobile data being consumed while i was both on wi-fi and mobile data? Can’t be right? I have auto-switch disabled so when i enable wi-fi use it shouldn’t be using any mobile data.
I have installed a data tracking app called My Data Manager and it’s been running since the 20th August when i loaded that 500MB. When the bundle is used up i will add another bundle and go back to leaving the mobile data on while in a wi-fi zone to see if increases again.
In the mean time please leave a comment if you’ve experienced a recent increase in mobile data usage. Please state what network you are on, how much your data consumption has increased compared to previous months or if you’ve had an abnormally high bill.