The iPhone is a fantastic tool for accessing the internet on the move. It makes it all-to-easy to browse websites, check email, and even stream video on the move.

Nothing is free, however, and all of this uses up mobile internet data. Measured in MB (megabytes) and GB (gigabytes) your mobile internet data allowance keeps tabs on how much internet you are using (you can find out more about saving data on iOS here). 

It used to be that most iPhones came with free unlimited data accounts, but those days seem to be over. Now most mobile phone providers allow you a limit, although the exact limit depends on how much you pay for your contact - some have 500mb while others have 10GB.

And almost everything you do these days on an iPhone uses some amount of internet data. Most apps are web connected these days, from Apple Maps getting its data online, through to iWork apps syncing with iCloud. If you’re not careful you can quickly and easily go through your data allowance.

This guide to mobile data usage will help you keep track of your mobile internet usage.

How to manage mobile data on iPhone

There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to managing mobile data. It's more about making a few small changes that should cut down on unneeded data usage. 

Access your iPhone's Mobile Data Usage

The Mobile Data Usage part of Settings can be used to check how your doing for mobile data. If you want to get a feel for how much data you're using click on Settings > Mobile > Mobile Data Usage.

Scroll down and look for Mobile Data Usage. There are two parts you need to check here:

  • Current Period: This is the amount of data you have used in your current billing period (this will typically be monthly even if you are on a Pay-And-Go account).
  • Current Period Roaming: This is the amount of data you have used when roaming abroad in the current period. Usually monthly. If you are abroad and using mobile internet data it’s important to keep an eye on this section. Dataq can still be quite expensive at around 69p per MB. With a £40 per day data cap it can still cost a lot of money to use data abroad.

iPhone Mobile Data Usage

Manage mobile data for specific apps

If you want to cut down on data usage for specific apps, then there are a few things you can do. Click on Settings > Mobile Data and scroll down to 'Use Mobile Data For'. This displays a list of apps that can use mobile data.

These are all stored alphabetically and you can see the amount of data they are using underneath. Streaming apps like Netflix and YouTube can use quite a bit data, as can the iCloud-integrated apps Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

Take a look and see which apps are using the most internet data, and decide whether you want to keep using those apps on the move.

If you want to prevent apps from using mobile data (so you can only use them to access the Internet when connected to a Wi-Fi network), tap the green switch next to the app in Use Mobile Data For.

It’ll switch off and the app will no longer be able to access the internet through mobile data. The app will still work when you connect to a Wi-Fi network, however.

Disable mobile data on your iPhone

In extreme circumstances you might want to use the Mobile Data switch to turn off all Mobile Data. Simply head to Settings > Mobile Data and tap the green button next to Mobile Data to turn it off. The iPhone will now work more like an iPod touch, and will only be able to access the internet when you are connected to Wi-Fi.

This is generally useful if you have exceeded your internet allowance for that month and don’t want to pay for additional data from your mobile provider.

Turn off Wi-Fi Assist

Wi-Fi Assist is a feature that'll automatically switch from Wi-Fi to your cellular network if your Wi-Fi network is underperforming. While it's handy for those with huge data allowances, the same can't be said for everyone. Thankfully, it's easy enough to turn off - simply head to Settings > Mobile Data, scroll to the bottom of the page and toggle off the Wi-Fi Assist switch. 

Cut down on iPhone data bills by using Wi-Fi

You should have Wi-fi turned on by default (but some people don’t). Tap on Settings > Wi-Fi and make sure you’re connected to your Wi-Fi network at home. If you want to cut down on internet charges, tap on Ask To Join Networks to turn it on. The iPhone will scan for Wi-Fi networks and ask you to join them when out and about.

Keep an eye on System Services

Along with mobile apps, you can also see which system services are using mobile data. Tap on Settings > Mobile Data and scroll all the way down to System Services. Tap this to view a list of what system services (iTunes Accounts, Push Notifications, and so on) are using mobile data and how much.

These should be quite small, and within your limits. You can’t turn these off individually though, if you don’t want to use them you have to turn all Mobile Data off.

iPhone System Services

Download an app

Most mobile phone providers in the UK offer an app that enables you to access up-to-date information on your account. These are all free and generally well worth downloading from the App Store. Here are the links to apps for major mobile phone providers:

There are also a number of third-party apps on the App Store that will track your mobile data. Our go-to app for data monitoring is Data Usage, available for only 49p on the App Store.

It'll track your data usage, alert you when you're near to your limit and also provides interesting data about how much you should be using each day, if it's likely that you'll go over your data allowance and so-on. It even provides a Today widget to provide access to your data usage at a glance.