5 Ways Cell Phone Data Is Used & How to Conserve Data Usage

Your mobile device uses a few different types of data depending on whether it’s connected to a Wi-Fi network. That magical pocket computer doesn’t always need to be hooked up to Wi-Fi – whenever you’re out and about, it provides internet access and sends text messages without trouble. But how does that work?

It’s all thanks to cellular data. Cellular data is one of the most important types of data for all mobile communications and data downloads. Let’s break down what cellular data is and look at five different ways in which cellular data is used.

What Is Cellular Data?

Cellular data, put simply, is data transmitted across cellular towers, which stand across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and many other countries. Combined, these cellular towers form a cellular data network, which provides the digital infrastructural framework needed to transmit internet information to mobile devices.

Think of cellular data as the unique type of data that uses cell towers to cross distances and reach devices. When you are in a car and bring up the Google Maps app on your iOS iPhone to figure out where you need to go, and you aren’t in range of a Wi-Fi router, you use a cellular data connection to do so. Your data usage will reflect this on your cell phone’s settings app.

Most cellular data transmits at 4G LTE speeds, although the transition to 5G faster data transmission speeds is well underway. Most of the big service providers now offer 5G data access nationwide, facilitating faster downloads and stabler internet connections.

How Does Cellular Data Differ From Wi-Fi Data?

Cellular data has some similarities to Wi-Fi data. For example, both types of data are transmitted and received wirelessly, so you never need to plug your phone in to receive a data download. That said, there are some big differences between these data types to keep in mind.

Wi-Fi is a type of radio frequency that connects wireless devices to each other. Wi-Fi signal is only available via a Wi-Fi network, which is transmitted from a Wi-Fi router. That’s why you can only use Wi-Fi data when you are within a certain physical proximity of a Wi-Fi router, like 30 m or 100 feet.

Therefore, the first big difference between cellular and Wi-Fi data is that Wi-Fi data has a limited range. When you move out of the range of your chosen Wi-Fi network’s router, your phone will automatically use cellular data to continue data transmission unless otherwise directed.

Furthermore, Wi-Fi data is technically unlimited (but not really). When you use cell data, you use up some of your cellular data allowances from your phone plan provider. For instance, your phone provider might give you 50 GB of cell data per month. If you use more than 50 GB, you may need to pay a data surcharge.

In contrast, when you hook up to a Wi-Fi network, you can use that Wi-Fi data as much as you like. That's because Wi-Fi networks are paid for on a monthly basis and provide "unlimited" data to devices that connect to them. They’re not truly free, but there aren’t any data limits for you to concern yourself about.

Given these differences, most people use Wi-Fi data when they are within range of a Wi-Fi router or network they trust (since open Wi-Fi networks can be dangerous for security and identity theft). Then, when they are out of range of a Wi-Fi network, mobile data usage allows them to retain internet connectivity.

How Is Cellular Data Used?

Cellular data is used in a few big ways on both Apple and Android devices, as they both make Wi-Fi connections and cellular connections the same way. Odds are you’ve used cellular data today and will continue to do so through the rest of the week! Here are some examples.

1. Web Browsing

When you surf web pages on a mobile device and aren’t connected to Wi-Fi or hotspot, you use cellular data by default. That means your mobile device connects to a local cell tower and uses that connection to bring internet data to your screen. The same connection also allows you to send data to the cellular data network, such as emails, messages, and more. This is one of the most popular data uses for laptops and mobile network phones alike.

2. Media Downloads

Many people use cell data to download various media, such as podcasts, songs, or TV shows. When you stream a Netflix show on your device while connected to a cellular network, it’s all happening thanks to cellular data.

3. Mobile Apps

Similarly, many of your mobile apps probably have a higher amount of data than you think. Many apps need to connect to the internet in order to refresh or update themselves, like by downloading updates. They use cell data to do this automatically if you aren't connected to a Wi-Fi network. Many social media apps can be data-hungry and use up more of your data allowance than you expect if you aren't careful!

4. Emails

When you send an email on a cell network, you use cellular data to do so. Emails aren’t very data heavy, but they can still take up more data than you think if your email inbox is allowed to refresh automatically, even if you aren’t connected to Wi-Fi.

5. Texts and Direct Messages

You can even use cellular data to send texts and direct messages. If you bring up your phone’s message app and aren’t connected to Wi-Fi, sending an SMS or other message requires cellular data to facilitate information transfer.

How Can You Save Cellular Data?

Since you can use cellular data for many different things, it’s a good idea to figure out how you can save cell data each month. That way, you won’t exceed your monthly allowance or have to pay high fees.

Pick a Good Cellular Data Plan

For starters, be sure to choose a high-quality data plan. The top cell providers, like T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T, offer top-tier, unlimited data plans with monthly allowances of 50 GB per month or more. Many family plans offer even greater data allowances because they assume everyone on the plan will use some amount of cellular data.

The more cellular data plan comes with, the more data you can use before running into the surcharge limit. Just keep in mind that many phone plans with high cellular data allowances also cost more compared to those that only give you a few gigabytes of data. High-data cell plans are more important if you use cellular data for high-data activities like streaming frequently.

Use Wi-Fi Networks Whenever Possible

You can also save cellular data by using Wi-Fi networks as much as you can. When you go to a coffee shop, for example, log into their free Wi-Fi network if you’re not doing anything that could put your identity or work at risk.

Similarly, be sure to connect your phone to your home Wi-Fi network and use the settings app to connect to Wi-Fi automatically when possible. That will prevent you from using cellular data by accident or without meaning to.

Turn Off Default Data Roaming

Data roaming happens when your phone “hops” or “roams” from network to network. For example, maybe you are close to an AT&T cell tower right now, but when you drive, you get closer to a Verizon cell tower. If data roaming is active, your phone will move from tower to tower and network to network automatically.

While this can be convenient for your internet coverage, it’s usually very expensive. Turn off default data roaming so you only use it when you explicitly need to in order to save money and cellular data.

Check Your Apps’ Permissions

Lastly, go to your settings app and look at all the app permissions currently enabled. Many of your apps have their permissions set to “on” for updates and connecting to the internet. Turn those permissions settings to “off” so your apps have to ask for your permission to update themselves or connect to the internet. That way, they won’t do so when you aren’t connected to Wi-Fi, eating into your cellular data allowance in the process.

Find a New Data Plan With Navi

In summary, cellular data is the wireless cellular network data your phone uses to connect to the internet and send messages whenever it's not connected to Wi-Fi or a hotspot. Thanks to cellular data, your phone stays valuable even when you aren't near a Wi-Fi router!

It’s important to make sure you have a good cell plan that includes plenty of cellular data for your browsing and downloading without racking up high fees. Navi’s Plan Navigator can help. In just three easy steps, we’ll connect you to the best data plan for your needs in no time. Try it today!


What Is a Hotspot? - WiFi Hotspot Definitions and Details | Intel

What is mobile data? | Tech Target

What’s the Difference Between Wi-Fi Data and Cellular Data? | Verizon

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