Why your data is really disappearing

Smartphone users are constantly complaining about disappearing data and that networks are stealing from them.

Besides incredibly rare instances where there are network issues and user data balances are affected, we have bad news for you – your data is not disappearing.

Mobile networks are under constant scrutiny by users and regulatory bodies, and stealing user data would be a suicidal move. MyBroadband tests have also shown that mobile data does not simply vanish off your phone.

That being said, you can be forgiven for coming to this conclusion as a modern smartphone and cellular network are designed to let you use massive amounts of data in a very short space of time.

There are two factors at play which lead users to believe that their data is disappearing – or being consumed faster than the rate they are used t0 – and these are network speeds and smartphone apps.

Network speeds

Mobile networks like Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom have drastically improved their mobile data speeds in recent years.

An Akamai report from 2013 showed that South Africa’s mobile operators provided an average download speed of 0.5Mbps in Q3 of that year.

Fast forward to 2018, and extensive MyBroadband speed tests across South Africa show that average mobile download speeds average between 20Mbps-30Mbps.

In metro areas with good coverage, these speeds can easily climb up to 50Mbps-60Mbps.

This improvement means that where 10MB of data used to take well over 2 minutes to download, today it takes only 3 seconds.

The table below shows how much faster data can be used as download speeds increase.

1GB Mobile Data Usage
Data Bundle Network Download Speed Time to Depletion
1GB 1Mbps 2h 13m
1GB 2Mbps 1h 6m
1GB 5Mbps 26m 40s
1GB 10Mbps 13m 20s
1GB 15Mbps 8m 53s
1GB 20Mbps 6m 40s
1GB 30Mbps 4m 27s
1GB 40Mbps 3m 20s
1GB 50Mbps 2m 40s
1GB 100Mbps 1m 20s

Users may therefore see this as data disappearing if they look at how long their data lasts, as opposed to how much content they have consumed.

Combine the increased data download speeds with more content being available online, and this is a recipe for rapid data depletion.

This is especially true when watching full HD video or viewing large photo albums online on your phone.

Smartphone apps

The second part of the data-depletion puzzle is the apps we run on our smartphones.

Popular apps like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are geared towards users sharing and viewing photos and videos – which consume a lot of data.

This is evident when you look at the settings options of the apps, with all three of the apps featuring data-saving settings to ensure users can save mobile data.

Instagram, for example, preloads videos, so they start faster, by default.

“If you want to reduce the amount of cellular data the Instagram app uses, you can choose not to have Instagram preload videos over cellular connections,” said the company.

Facebook also has similar mobile data options available to save mobile data.

Instagram settings.

WhatsApp features similar settings, and users can choose to prevent files like videos and photos downloading over mobile data – limiting them to Wi-Fi only.

In YouTube, users are able to stop videos autoplaying and can limit their mobile data usage by only streaming HD content over Wi-Fi.

WhatsApp settings.

Add in email, web browsing, and music streaming to the above, and users can quickly burn through several gigabytes a month by only actively using their phones a couple hours each day.

The image below provides an example of mobile data usage on an iPhone, and how apps like Instagram, music streaming, web browsing, and email use large chunks of mobile data.

This usage menu, which is available on Android in a different format, is a good tool to track your data usage and allow you to see where your “disappearing” data is going.

  • On iPhone got to: Settings > Mobile Data > scroll down.
  • On Android got to: Settings > Network & Internet > Data usage > Mobile data usage.

Mobile Usage

Now read: South Africa to start building affordable smartphones

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Why your data is really disappearing