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Understanding how Internet Service Providers estimate data usage and how to manage mobile data

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown of states across the country, Nigerians are staying at home and making use of more telecommunications services than ever before, to stay in touch with friends, family, colleagues, work and the world at large.

As a result, telecom consumers seem to have observed that their mobile internet data and call credit becomes exhausted faster than it used to before the lockdown. The Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) has also revealed that there has been a significant surge in amounts of complaints from consumers about fast internet data depletion and poor quality of data services.

After carrying out investigations on complaints from consumers, the NCC decided to educate Nigerian telecommunication network subscribers on why and how data usage and charges are estimated by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Nigeria.

According to the regulator, activities that use up the most data include; downloading and watching videos online especially on sites Like Netflix and YouTube, sending and receiving emails with large attachments, software updates and virus​ definition updates, going on Social Media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram,Twitter, Tik Tok etc., playing games on a website or via a downloaded app, remote security cameras, data sent between sites on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and mobile App online notifications from social media, social marketing sites etc.

In a comprehensive report listing answers to frequently asked questions, the NCC said; “Your data consumption depends on a large number of factors, including the nature of technology (2G, 3G, 4G or 5G), the quality of the network, the speed of download, the type of websites you visit, the specifications of your handset, and so many other factors that contribute to your data consumption.”

“For instance, two handsets can use different amounts of data to download or stream the same video on YouTube,” the NCC said.

The following ​approximations give an estimation of data usage. ​Please note that these are mere estimations provided by an operator based on typical/average file sizes​.

One hour of social media = 200mb

One hour of browsing = 60mb

One hour of instant messaging with video calls = 140mb

One hour of streaming music = 60mb

One hour of streaming videos = 350mb (Non HD) and 1GB (HD) one email sent or received with attachments = 500kb

One minute of connected game play = 60mb

The commission suggests that mobile network consumers can better manage their data by disabling mobile data when it is not needed, using data compression in browser or by reducing video streaming quality from video sites such as YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, etc. – you can use from 1080p or default/ auto setting to 240p for optimal viewing and lower data consumption. This may however affect the quality of your experience.

It is also possible to stretch your data by deactivating all cloud storages except when / where necessary, by not breaking or interrupting downloads in-between video sessions and by turning off automatic updates for apps for mobile devices, laptops and personal computers.

Wherever there is Wi-Fi available, use the hotspots to save your mobile data – you should however note that there are data security risks to using open/free Wi-Fi connections and your passwords and personal data are often exposed on such connections.

Mobile data users can also limit sending and receiving files and push notifications, delete email messages that won’t send and are no longer required, send big files when connected via Wi-Fi or use Wi-Fi for big files, monitor time spent on Social Media and closing apps when you’re done using them can also reduce data usage.

Luckily, new smartphones have settings to help manage mobile data usage and avoid wastage. Your smartphone’s default settings are typically configured to get the best possible experience, which comes at the cost of your data usage. You can change those settings to manage your data usage in the following ways:

By manually capping mobile data: To do this, go to Settings > Network & Internet > Data Usage > Billing Cycle

By Manually setting Data Saver

Activate data saver: Locate “Data Usage” on your device and activate “Data Saver”. This will help cut down your data usage by preventing apps from using data in the background. Disable auto-update on your App store: Disable multimedia auto-download on your social media apps turn off your data when it’s not in use.

Stop Apps from automatically synching: to do this,

Go to Setting > Apps & notifications > Select App > Select Disable Background Data. Don’t Stream it, Download It.

It is more advisable to download video or audio content to save data than to stream it online.

Additionally, smartphone users can set data alert notifications on their phones and avoid multiple configuration of the same email address on

mobile phones. For instance, do not configure your Gmail address on your email app as well as Gmail app at the same time on the same mobile phone.

If you have Android 8.0 or later, your phone should come equipped with Data Saver mode, which kicks in when you are not on Wi-Fi and ensures that apps and services that are not being actively used won’t be able to stream data in the background.

It is very easy to turn Data Saver mode on and off. To do this,

● Go to Settings

● Go to “Network & internet” > “Data usage”

● Select “Data Saver.” Toggle “Use Data Saver” on.

There may be specific apps that you want to allow to use background data, even when Data Saver mode is on. For example, you may want to get Twitter notifications no matter where you are. If you set a data limit, you can set your phone to issue a warning if you’re nearing your data limit before the end of your monthly billing cycle. You can even set a limit beyond which your phone will not use any data. To do this, go to Settings, go to “Network & internet” > “Data usage” > “Data warning &limit”, then tap on “App data usage cycle.” This will let you set the day that your account starts its monthly cycle. Back up and toggle “Set data warning” on. You can then enter the data limit – say, 4GB — that you want for your phone.

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