Keeping track of your iPhone data usage

In the wake of a law suit accusing AT&T of intentionally overcharging for data use, keep tabs on your iPhone data usage

When users had unlimited data there was no reason to be concerned with how or where that data was being consumed. Since AT&T dropped unlimited data in favor of tiered data caps, though, users have struggled to understand data usage, and now AT&T is faced with a law suit accusing it of systematically overcharging customers.

Well, if you are curious about how and where your data allotment is getting eaten up, or you have some suspicions of your own about inappropriate charging of data consumption, perhaps you should take matters into your own hands. DataMan is an app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that closely tracks your data usage so you can see where all those megabytes went.

I had my own trials and tribulations with iPhone data consumption. After having reviewed the monthly data history and seeing that my wife and son had never used more than 200MB, I switched both lines form unlimited to the 200MB plan to cut my cost in half. Almost immediately, though, we began to get alerts that my son's line had exceeded the 200MB cap.

I went back and forth with AT&T trying to get to the root cause. My son is home schooled and the iPhone is connected via Wi-Fi while in the house, so 90 percent of the time it shouldn't even be able to use the data plan. And, he knew not to rack up 3G data use, so he wasn't surfing the Web or watching Youtube videos while out of the house. So, why were we seeing these massive chunks of data being consumed?

For my situation at least, the answer seemed to lie not with AT&T, but with the addition of multitasking in iOS. We discovered that every app he had ever tapped was still running in the background--some "phoning home" and communicating wirelessly while he was out even though he wasn't aware of the activity. Shutting down all of the apps running in the background in iOS seemed to clear up the problem and we haven't had an issue since then.

Some readers have reported different concerns, though--like iPhone data being allegedly being consumed when the device isn't even turned on, or while the user is asleep. Multitasking alone may not explain the data usage issues for everyone, so an app like DataMan can be instrumental in keeping an eye on things.

DataMan lets you set your billing date, and thresholds for daily, weekly, or monthly data consumption with alerts configured to warn you as you approach the thresholds. The reports breakdown in ten minute increments when and how your data was used--cellular vs. Wi-Fi.

DataMan can also use geotag information to plot out where the data was accessed on a map. However, I wouldn't put too much faith in the accuracy of the map data. Within an hour of using the app I had four different map points plotted covering a range of a few blocks, yet my iPhone had literally not left its spot on the table in front of me.

Mapping aside, though, the reports of when the data is being used, and whether the iPhone is getting the data via cellular or Wi-Fi could be valuable tools in taming your data usage, identifying fraudulent overcharges, or making the decision to upgrade or downgrade your data plan.

The DataMan app is available in the iTunes App Store for $1.99. There is also a free Lite version available with more limited functionality and less precise reporting.

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Tags consumer electronicsat&tCell PhonesPhones

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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