How to stop your mobile data and airtime getting drained

The use of mobile data is on the rise around the world, thanks to more Internet users accessing content from smartphones and tablets.

Unfortunately for these users, mobile data, per GB, remains much more expensive than its fixed-line competitors – ADSL and fibre- to-the-home.

This can lead to a nasty bill shock at the end of the month for contract mobile users who use lots of data, or the depletion of data bundles and airtime for those on prepaid.

This is amplified if mobile data and airtime is being deducted off your account and you are unsure where it is going.

To stem the flow of data and airtime from your smartphone or tablet, read the pointers below.

Turn off autoplaying and preloading videos

Facebook Notifications

Facebook and Twitter’s mobile apps are set to allow video autoplaying by default, while Instagram automatically preloads videos by default.

While this is not a problem while on a Wi-Fi connection, autoplaying videos on a mobile connection can quickly deplete data. To disable autoplaying videos for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (preloading), read below.

Facebook mobile app: Enter the Settings menu. Select Account Settings >> Videos and Photos >> Autoplay (under Video Settings section) >> Never Autoplay Videos.

Twitter mobile app: Enter your Profile and then the Settings menu. Select Video autoplay >> Never play videos automatically.

Instagram, by default, preloads videos so they start faster for the user. To disable this, and reduce the amount of mobile data you use, open the Instagram mobile app and select your Profile. Open the Options menu >> Cellular Data Use (under the Settings section) >> Use Less Data.

Turn off Wi-Fi assistants


Android and iOS devices give users the option automatically switch between mobile and Wi-Fi networks to ensure an online session is not affected by any drops in connectivity.

If the operating system detects the Wi-Fi connection is patchy, it will automatically switch a user to their cellular data connection – depleting data bundles or airtime while online.

This smart network selection is called Wi-Fi Assist on Apple iOS 9 devices and is enabled by default.

To turn off Wi-Fi assist, go to Settings >> Cellular >> Wi-Fi Assist (at the bottom of the menu), and disable it.

On Android devices, the option is called Auto network switch, or Smart network switch. To disable it, go to Settings >> Wi-Fi >> Options > Advanced >> Smart network switch / Auto network switch.

Cancel all Wasp subscriptions

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Should you find your airtime disappearing or amounts being billed to your account that you can’t account for, you may have subscribed to a Wasp.

Since the end of 2013, South Africa’s mobile network providers require premium content subscription services to go through a double opt-in process – but there have been Wasps who trick mobile subscribers into opting in to a subscription service.

To see whether you have been subscribed to a Wasp, mobile operators allow users to manage content subscriptions through SMS or USSD codes.

  • Cell C: Dial *133*1#. From there you can block all existing and future content billing.
  • MTN: Dial *141*5# and select which services to unsubscribe from.
  • Telkom: Telkom’s Event-based Billing
  • Vodacom: Send SMS containing “STOP ALL” to 30333.

Check your mobile data usage

Mobile data monitoring on Android and iOS

Android and iOS have built-in features to track data consumption, which can be accessed through a device’s Settings menu.

On an Apple device, go to Settings >> Cellular >> and scroll down to the Cellular Data Usage section.

On Android devices, go to Settings, then enter the Wireless Networks section. Depending on your device, the data usage tracker will be present, or under the Advanced section of Wireless Networks.

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How to stop your mobile data and airtime getting drained