Avoiding Bill Shock on a Cell Phone Data Plan

22 May 2015

Mobile broadband is a fantastic thing. It’s enabled us to take the internet wherever we go. We play games on the bus, read news on the train, use email, connect to people via social media, sync our calendars -- the list goes on and on.

However, with all of these new perks comes a degree of risk and uncertainty. How much of my monthly data cap do you use? It’s difficult to know the kind of services that you can use frequently and which you need to be more cautious with. Going over that monthly data allowance can be an expensive and frustrating mistake, but it’s one that many folk aren’t sure how to avoid.

We’ve created this handy usage guide to help you make some more informed decisions with your mobile data usage and hopefully avoid becoming a victim of the fees associated with exceeding your monthly quota.

Checking Your Monthly Cap Usage

Many carriers will have ways for you to check your own data usage for each of your pay periods. Methods of checking change depending on which carrier you are with. Sometimes it’s simplest to check on a desktop browser, other carriers supply downloadable apps that make things a bit easier. It’s important to note that any usage you check may not be 100% up-to-date and can be anywhere up to 24-48 hours behind.

Each carrier will require you to create an online account using your mobile number to track your usage. We’ve listed the various internet account services of some of the major Canadian providers below. If your provider is not listed try searching their website for data usage trackers, or a ‘My Account’ section. Also, look for a dedicated app to check your account on the App Store on your phone.

Service Provider Website Link iTunes App Link Android App Link
Telus Telus Login Telus My Account Telus My Account
Bell MyBell Login MyBell Mobile MyBell Mobile
Rogers MyROGERS My Rogers My Rogers Account
Wind Mobile My Wind Login Wind My Account Wind My Account
Sasktel mySasktel Login mySasktel App mySasktel App

Beware of streaming media

The biggest and most common mobile data killer is media streaming. Whether you are streaming video from sites like YouTube or Facebook, or listening to music on Spotify or Pandora.

What most people don’t realise is that streaming a video uses up the same amount of data as downloading it would, except you use up that amount of data again every time you reload the video. Popular streaming sites, like YouTube, do a good job of compressing the data, but it can still be a heavy-hitter on your monthly allowance.

In recent times many people have been stung specifically by an overuse of streaming services. This can generally be traced back to the introduction of 4G LTE services. 4G offers vastly superior internet speeds in well-supported areas and as such makes video streaming much more accessible on mobile devices. As a result users who once didn’t access much video content are now doing it with increased regularity, meaning that they are going through a much larger amount of data in their daily use.

Be extremely cautious when using streaming services wherever possible we recommend you not use the High Definition (HD) setting. With Spotify, try to keep your use to under an hour per day.

Browsing is Probably Fine

Contrary to popular opinion, frequenting websites or social media platforms doesn’t actually use up much data, especially these days with most popular services offering themselves in mobile-friendly form.

Back when we made our original broadband usage guide, we tested the amount of data used by Facebook when engaged in heavy but not ridiculous use. With a combination of chatting, picture browsing, status checking and even after following some links we found that the desktop browser version of Facebook used up only around 1MB per minute. Considering that there are 1024MB in a GB and most data plans offer multiple GBs we don’t really consider Facebook or other social media platforms to be a danger zone. Once again beware of any video content, but loading pictures and songs is safe.

Similarly we found that when browsing casually we used up very little data. Not all websites have mobile-friendly versions and as such we’ve found data usage to be about double that of Facebook, on average. Of course every website is different so it’s impossible to put an actual number on expected usage. When we measured our stats we found a usage rate of around 2.5MB per minute, but just remember that your experience may vary from this.

2.5MB per minute of constant browsing is still a pretty low figure. Even so, anyone with less than a 1GB cap should always be wary of any internet usage and as such we recommend that these people take note of their browsing. Everyone else should feel free to browse at their leisure, providing they haven’t already used up their cap by other means.


Tethering is the process by which a cell phone’s data connection is pushed out to other devices, like laptops and iPads, allowing those devices to connect to the internet via the cell’s own connection. This is a handy service at times but can also be very dangerous.

It’s much easier to download large files or go overboard on streaming services on a laptop than a phone. If you are tethering please keep mindful of what you’re doing and try to keep downloads and streaming to a minimum.

Do you need a plan with more included data?
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Bill Shock Image via Shutterstock



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