Home Tech Cellular data usage soars with new iPhone 4S

Cellular data usage soars with new iPhone 4S


Five days and five hours into life with Siri and my white iPhone 4S and I’ve used 313MB of 3G data. Normally I use no more than 250MB in a full month. I keep a close eye on the figures because I travel a lot in Europe and occasionally use data roaming, which is notoriously expensive¹.

This extra usage is more likely to be the fault of the greater facilities built into iOS 5 rather than the iPhone 4S specifically. As far as I can think, Siri is the only likely data hog that differentiates the 4S from other iPhones.

So where is the culprit to be found? Here are some possibilities:

  • iCloud backup: No, this operates only on wifi so will not use your data allowance
  • Mail: Unlikely because I’ve been syncing with Mobile Me for years
  • Contacts: Ditto
  • Calendars: Ditto
  • Reminders: Minimal extra use
  • Bookmarks.: Lots of churning in the first few days but unlikely to be a big item
  • Notes: Minimal
  • Photo Stream: No, because it makes it clear that it works only on wifi
  • Documents and Data: Yes, a possibility although in my case I have made very little use of this feature. Mobile usage can be switched off if you are worried about this.
  • Find My Phone: Minimal usage
  • Storage and backup: No, only works on wifi
  • Automatic synchronisation with apps such as Evernote, Good Reader, Dropbox. I do this on the iPhone, althogh I do this on my iPad, particlarly with Evernote.

So far so good. I can’t really put my finger on it. I have certainly been playing with the phone more than usual because it is new. But my frolics with Siri, another potential data hog, have been mainly in the comfort of my home and therefore on wifi. I’ve booked a few appointments and made a few reminders on the 3G network but really not that much. I am also using iMessage instead of texts where possible (with other iOS 5 users) but, again, I cannot see that consuming large amounts of data.

There is always the possibility that the set-up process, transferring emails and so forth, uses extra data on a new phone, but I really don’t think this is likely. Besides, all my set up was done on wifi.

In conclusion, I don’t see an obvious culprit. I am doing all the usual things, reading news on Reeder, sending selected stories to Instapaper, synchronising OmniFocus, making the odd Tango, Viber or Skype call. Nothing, really, that has blossomed as a result of using iOS 5 or the iPhone 4S.

Perhaps readers could check their usage and see if they have the same experiences, either simply as a result of installing iOS 5 or with a new iPhone 4S.²


¹ My network, Vodafone UK, is relatively cheap for data roaming in Europe. At £1 per megabyte, Vodafone is one third the cost of O2. In addition, Vodafone has an excellent daily package costing £2 for up to 25Mb of data. You need to opt in (free) if you have a Vodafone account, but it is well worth it. It kicks in automatically and you get 24-hours’ usage up to 25Mb (from midnight to midnight London time, not local time). If you go over this allowance you pay the standard £1 per megabyte.

² To check usage go to Settings/General and hit the Usage button. Mobile Usage (or Cellular Usage in the USA) is buried at the bottom on the page. Hit that button and you will see Mobile Data Network with Sent and Received figures. Add the two together to get your usage for period since the last reset. If you have used tethered data you need to add in those figures as well. The statistics can be reset whenever you wish, ideally at the end of a billing period.


  1. Mike,

    It could be that the issue is related to location services and in particular to assisted GPS (A-GPS) that helps getting a faster calculation of your position by using cellular data.

    It is my understanding that if you use location services a lot, they will also generate quite a high data traffic. I really don't know how to calculate the traffic that A-GPS could generate but maybe that's the reason. Just my two cents.

    Keep on the good work. I enjoy reading you.

    Bes regards,

  2. Pietro

    I think you are right. I know even with the last phone the battery would run down in no time if I left, say, TomTom running in the background. I turned off location services earlier in the week except for Find My Phone, TomTom and Maps. I haven't needed to load the latter two. Still, the battery runs down much faster than my one-year-old iPhone 4. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple come out with a fairly rapid fix. I'd there is one.


  3. I experienced the same problem with data being consumed for no reason. Talked with AT&T and to keep this short the 4S is always sending and receiving data wasting your plan. You can shut down anything and everything, location services, Siri push, EVERYTHING that would send or receive data and the 4S keeps sending and receiving. With the iPhone 4 with IOS 5 it is fine and no data transmits or receives. The 4S it just keeps going unless you turn off cellular data.

    I spoke with AT&T and we shut everything off that could send or receive data and it showed on their computer my data usage was going up. I reset my usage as well, gave it 15 to 20 minutes and data was sent and received. Why??? AT&T has no clue.

    Try it yourself. Shut everything off Siri, location services, iCloud, mail push, and reset your data usage. Let the phone sit for a while and check your data usage and you will see it is sending and receiving for no reason. You can leave your wifi on and here is something AT&T told me. When your phone goes to sleep it turns off wifi and switches to 3G. Reason Apple says is 3G uses less battery consumption. But …. It is constantly transmitting and receiving data draining your battery.

    With the 4S everyone is talking about how bad the battery is and that is why. Data always sending and receiving with everything shut down that would cause data transmission. I did a test today and turned 3G off so it could not use it. I had to charge the 4s twice a day with 3G on and with it off over 24 hours have gone by and am at 27%.

    My belief for the slow connection on 3G on the 4S and battery problem is it is constantly transmitting data and receiving it. Where it is sending it and receiving it from AT&T doesn't even know.

    Problem with shutting 3G off is no voice mail can make it in your phone and to do anything you have to be connected to wifi. Which brings up another thing. With 3G off your wifi is very fast connecting and wiith the 3G on it is slow.

    AT&T admitted to me there is a serious problem with data being used for no reason. Why? They don't have a clue and people are already exceeding their data plans with the 4S.

    Try all the things I said, reset your data usage, and let the phone sit for a while. Then go back to usage and you will see your 4S is transmitting and receiving data for no reason.

    Apple has a HUGE problem that AT&T told me they are working to fix but won't come out and let people know. Everyone will know. People are already getting SMS messages saying their data plan is at 65%, then 90% the next day, and maxed out the next that have small data plans. Con weeks to come this problem will be well known if Apple doesn't come out with a update or if that can even fix the 4S. The 4 runs fine with IOS 5.

    Try what I said above and keep tabs on your data usage and you will see the 4S has a major problem. Plus you don't want to get data overcharges. AT&T has already issued me a credit for the 200mb that the 4S blew through

    Last but not least why are carriers now starting to offer unlimited data plans on the 4S??? Because they know they have a problem and won't admit to it, that's why.

  4. Update….

    I was told by At&t to leave my 3G off and see what happens because that is the 100% fix for it to stop sending data. Like I said above where it is coming from and going, no one seems to know…..

    Here is what happend with leaving off the 3G…. If you receive a Voice Mail, you don't get it because it stores on the phone and not on their servers. Since Apple set up IOS 5 to go to 3G after about 5 minutes in sleep mode despite being on wifi… Without 3G being enabled…. No Voice Mails can be received….

    The biggest complaints so far you read and hear about are "Battery Life" and "Slow 3G Connection"….. Well, the 3G slow connection is a no brainer because if all the iPhone 4S phones are sending and receiving data for no reason what so ever the network is jammed…. Only thing that makes any sense their because in a congested area some people might be sending and receiving 3G data, but with the 4S everyone's phone is sending and receiving, JAMMING them up… Result… Slow 3G Speed, so that one is a no brainer…..

    Another thing I noticed during test leaving off the 3G my wifi goes VERY, VERY FAST!!!!! I think the 3G is constantly sending regardless in wifi mode so that is the only thing that make sense… If I turn on my 3G and Wi-Fi, my Wi-Fi seems to run slower, disable the 3G and it seems to move a lot faster……

    Battery Life is another no brainer with leaving my 3G off for over 36 hours……If the phone is constantly sending and receiving data then it has to be consuming battery power. I had to charge my new iPhone4S up twice a day with the 3G on regardless that I was always on a Wi-Fi network…..

    With the 3G disabled and just on Wi-Fi I started the day with a 100% battery and it was at around 17% 24 hours later….I did do a recharge at around 5:00 PM which put it at 36 hours and I was down to about 3%…

    I used the phone just like I always do and probably more I would have to say…..I know everyone is tuned into the slow 3G reception and poor battery life, but I feel that it all comes from the 3G sending and transmitting data for no rhyme or reason….

    Like I said above… Turn OFF your 3G (no voice mails) and see for yourself… I hope an IOS 5 Update will fix this problem for the 4S and it is not a bad component in the phone. Just makes no sense how the old iPhone 4 can run flawless with the IOS 5 Update and experiences no problems at all… Kinda scary and wonder why Apple has not said anything….

  5. I am 3 weeks into a new vodafone UK 4S contract, my old 3g never used more than 400mb of data per month, I checked today using vodafones app and I have somehow used 1.6GB of data!

    I use wireless at home and a work.

    Co incidentally vodafone have an all you can use data trial for 3 months.

    I am worried that I will have to switch off my 3g when the free trial runs out.

    Battery life isn't a problem

    I would like to know what data is being sent?

    I have noticed that if I am in part of the building where the wifi signal is weak the phone doesn't seem to know if it should use 3G or wifi so news apps won't update, safari doesn't load pages and emails don't download until I switch wifi off.

  6. Having read other posts dating back to the original iP4 I am wondering if the mobile providers statistics are picking up the wifi data stats too?

    My vodafone app sometimes says 0mb used (unlimited trial) other times 1600mb and its picking up data stats from my phone?

  7. Another Update:

    Apple just released for download the IOS 5.01 and said the main fix was people complaining about battery drain issues and some other bug fixes. Last night I had my iPhone 4S fully charged before going to bed, everything turned on (3g, location services, Siri, et) and woke up going from 100% to 68%. I did do a reset on data putting it back to zero sending and receiving and that also went up.

    It is kinda funny when you call Apple or At&t they give you excuses about it until you tell them exactly what you did turning everything off and telling them their problem, then they cannot give you any excuses. I was told by Apple that they are aware of the the data problem sending and receiving and the fix would be out just before Thanksgiving. Kinda weird how they just released an update yesterday and I say that because I did a pre-order of my iPhone 4S and I have I believe until the 15th to return it. Why do I find that weird is because they released an update on everyone's major concern that they notice about the battery draining so fast.

    My opinnion is they feel they had to release something so the Apple stores are not flooded with returns of the iPhone 4s from all their pre-orders. From my battery draining about 1/3 while I was sleeping I feel the new IOS 5.01 did nothing and was to keep all the returns down letting people think Apple corrected the problem.

    I also find weird is I was on the phone with Apple a day or so before and was told the update that is suppose to fix everything was coming out just before Thanksgiving. Why did he not tell me it would be out in a day or so??? Because I feel this is just Apple buying time to figure it all out and correct what the problem is…

    The phone will still stay in wi-fi for about 5 minutes while sleeping and when you wake it up it still shows the 3g icon for a split second then it switches to wi-fi…. If you call Apple or your carrier they will just tell you to turn off the 3g to save your data, which does save your battery and I got about 36 hours leaving the 3g off and just using wi-fi using the phone like I normally do. Now with their new update the phone used about 1/3 of the battery??? If you read all the post I have put up on here and call Apple or your Carrier they cannot give you excuses because you are telling them the EXACT problem they are trying to correct and don't listen to them about doing a soft reset, hard reset, or restoring the phone because that does nothing….

    I am starting to wonder if this is a Hardware Issue with this new processor they put in it verses the IOS program because my wife's iPhone 4 (not the S) ran perfect with IOS 5.0 with no excessive battery drain, no data sending and receiving, etc….

    Did Apple just screw up with this new processor? Why are carriers going to unlimited data and the ones that don't like At&t talking about going back to unlimited data??? I know At&t had the iPhone all to themselves and could control how they sold data and now they have to compete with other carriers that are going unlimited. Or…. Is it they have a problem that just cannot be fixed with an IOS update… I am no computer expert so I dont have a clue, just things I have observed and from talking with Apple & At&t. Like I said above if you call Apple or your Carrier and tell them the exact problem you are having they know they cannot give you excuses because you have done all that they are going to reccomend to you to do.

    Bottom line is their is a problem with the iPhone 4S and I am wondering if I was just given an excuse from Apple about an update that is coming out just before Thanksgiving, but then IOS 5.01 was released a day or so after. Why did he not mention that??? Why was this "Patch" such a big update??? Thats another question and I wish Apple would just come out and admit their is a problem, but I know they cannot because the Apple stores would have lines out the door with RETURNS verses people lining up to purchase the iPhone4S.

    I have a couple days to decide if I am going back to my iPhone 4 and returning the 4S.. I like the 64GB, Siri and talk and text is not a big deal to me, but it is nice. Reception is a lot better and the camera is great. What to do is my question that rolls around in my head….

    This is getting long again and I know Apple gave to people the rubber sleeve to fix the reception problem on the iPhone 4 which was a total joke and did nothing in my opinion. I have an own some of the battery powered sleeves for the phones and they are VERY NICE, except the Energizer which is JUNK and can only give you about 40%…. Xpal is nice and I have to say the very best is the Mophie Juice Pack that cost around 80.00 on Amazon.

    Reason I say Energizer is no good other then it only gives about 40% is you cannot turn it on and off and once you put your iPhone into it the things starts charging you up. Xpal and Mophie have a switch on it so when you put your iPhone in it does not charge until you flip the swictch (Mophie) or push the button (XPal).

  8. I am having the exact same problem and really want to know the cuase of it. its clearly a problem with the 4s. My data usage has sky rocketed for no apparent reason and by battery is draining at a much faster rate without any noticeable diffrence in the way i use my phone.
    this is very frustrating given i am on a data capped package of only 500mb with O2, who unsurpriseingly, have no idea what im talking about or any particular care about my predicament. Im going to be stuck with very hefty phone bills at this rate and want to know what applt are going to do about it….if you have a resolution, id love to hear it!

  9. I've had the same problems with upgrading from a 3G to 4s on O2 in the UK. O2 are not interested. One thing I've noticed is that no matter what I turn off the iPhone insists on collecting emails push / fetch
    Off and all set to manual – more freaky data usage. The data usage plan should have started at 2500 mb not 500mb. Did they ever trial
    This phone. My usage was 300 per month. I've not used 470mb in 14 days! I daren't use my phone now. I should have stayed with my iPhone 3G!
    Come on Apple and O2 just make it unlimited again and the problem with go away!
    One very frustrated customer!

  10. Just got off the phone with AT&T. Same problems as everyone else. had the 4s for about a month and blew through 2 GB when I usually use less than 500mb a month. They told me that I have to turn cellular data "off" b/c even though I am on a wifi network at home and at work, the phone will default to using cellular data even though I am on a wifi network. I was using 200mb of data a night while I was asleep for some reason which they still can't explain, but now I am going to have to leave cellular data off all of the time and toggle it back on when I need to access 3G and not in a wifi network. Completely does not make sense at all. Why does the phone default to cellular data when connected to wif?. And who wants to be constantly turning the cellular data on and off as you leave wifi networks if you need to access an app or the internet. This seems like a serious problem that Apple needs to fix fast.

  11. The problem with your usage is with iCloud and "documents and data". There is a setting in there called "Use Cellular", basically iCloud is backing up over your 3G network all of your apps documents folder. Developers save everything in there, images, files, cached data. My iPhone 4 backed up 1.9GB of data to iCloud. My data plan was 1.6GB over in 16 days.

    To stop iCloud backing up over 3g got to Settings->iCloud->Documents and Data->Use Cellular and turn it off.

    Can't believe Apple set this to "on" by default. I have wifi and home and work, my average was 200MB, this month is 1.8GB !! sucks.

  12. I have the same problem with my iPhone 4S. Data is constantly being sent all day even when I'm asleep. The only way to stop the send and receive data is to turn Mobile Data Off. Then there is no point in having a Smartphone. Apple needs to sort this problem out and fast.

  13. I have a white 64GB iPhone 4S that I finally took delivery of on the 4th Jan (decided not to jump from the 4 to 4S at launch after reading of the batter problems etc.) and have also found that with cellular data turned off (I work from home and my iPhone is connected to WiFi pretty much all the time) the battery life increased quite significantly.

    Checking cellular data usage since the 4th Jan shows sent: 16.1MB; received: 31.9MB – I don't seem to have the data issues that people have described (I'm on Vodafone UK with 1GB allowance which is currently unlimited for 3mths).

    HOWEVER, the whole reason I found this page was because it became obvious that my iPhone was sending/receiving data of some kind when connected to WiFi. I knew this because I could hear the interference on some cheap PC speakers that it was sitting next to. If any of you remember how GSM phones used to interfere with everything back in the 90s, this was the same sound (I used to be able to tell a call was coming in before the phone even rang from the interference as the network contacted the phone).

    So, it seems as though there is some kind of 'handshaking' going on at the very least that causes the phone to make a data connection and this is what drains the battery. I haven't experienced the massive data issues (but maybe Vodafone will disagree and tell me I've used 1GB or something) but there does seem to be something going on that means the phone constantly opens up a data connection.

    Hope that helps…

  14. I had a 3G for 3 years and never never exceeded my 500mb data plan. I had my 4S a week before Xmas and 2 weeks after I was receiving a text message from Rogers telling me I was about to exceed my data limit. I had to pay an extra. My 4S have the same Apps as my 3G and the same settings for manual retrieving my mail. I will sue Rogers and Apple for the extra costs.

  15. issue is not just limited to 4s. I have a 4 and ever since upgrading to iOS 5 have been getting phantom data useage at night when my phone is charging and should still be connected to wifi, per others. Will be turning off data access at night to see if that helps.

  16. I'm having the same issue. Mine is with data received. I've sent 60mb and received 762MB?!?! how is that even possible?? I've now got everything turned off – location services, notifications. I don't use excessive internet, i check FB maybe twice a day, i have my emails set to manual. I don't get it. My daughter talked me into an iphone 4s – I was on Blackberry and now i'm almost wishing I had never switched.

  17. I had a similar problem on my verizon 4s. As it turns out, the extremely high data usage you see turned out to be a false reading for me (it said anywhere from 300mb to 57gb after seeral resets). Im not sure about at&t networks, but verizon
    users can dial #DATA to see their real data usage. I know this is the correct usage because i have a 2gb plan and ive never been charged for going over. If you are a verizon user, i suggest using this method ad disregarding what it says in settings.

  18. Having the same problem with a new 4S. Everything worked just fine from the moment I bought it when 5.0 was installed. When we installed 5.1, data usage started to go crazy, 100MB a day.

    I'm going to try the setting someone mentioned that iCloud uses 3G cellular data. Let's see if that makes a difference. Talked to both AT&T and Apple and they claim they have no idea.

  19. I am having a similar problem with Verizon Wireless and Vodafone. I was on a business trip in the UK and was on a 300MB/month Global Data plan.

    On March 28th, I was hit with 102699 KB use while the iPhone 4S was in "Cellular Data" off mode. My normal connection hits are under 500 KB and my hits while in the UK were all under 100 KB with a few known exceptions when I turned Cellular Data on for some navigation.

    During the time of the big hit, I was in a hotel using Wi-Fi and I only checked email and went out to BBCNews for a few seconds.

  20. I noticed my data usage skyrocket on my iPhone 4S right after I upgraded to iOS 5.1. The first week of my AT&T billing period, I received notification that I had used 70% of my data, and I never even use that in the whole 4 week period. I have been back and forth with Apple and AT&T. I cannot pin it to any single app, either.

    Here's the latest idea from an Apple tech support guy…
    If the phone is on wifi but it cannot get to the internet "fast enough", it automatically switches to cellular data if it is turned on.

    If this is true, my guess is that there is a bug/issue in the 5.1 wifi where the phone does not connect to the wifi and then switches. This makes sense, because I have had cases where the cellular data was off and I could not connect to the internet, but when I rebooted the phone, I could connect fine over wifi. Perhaps there's a memory leak or something with wifi that crashes.

    It's pretty frustrating, I agree. I have to keep calling AT&T to get credits and they keep changing my plan back and forth.

  21. The country I live in just updated to 4G (well 3.75 apparently, but close enough) and suddenly my usage has gone nuts. Now I have everything turned off and nothing should be fetching or sending automatically, because data is expensive here (prepaid service – ~USD5 per 50MB). I've gone from that lasting about a week on my minimal usage to being drained within 24 hours. The provider I'm with keeps giving me free credit when I complain but they're blaming me basically cos they think I have apps running in the background (which I do not).

    I haven't done the most recent software upgrade (because even proper broadband internet is expensive here – and the only "fast" service suitable for downloading large files is charged on a per minute basis)… has the most recent.

    Will it help?

  22. My husband's phone is having same issue BUT we have a 3gs with the new 5.1 update. After this update is when we started noticing the problem. I have the same phone and update but mine doesn't use the data like his.
    What we noticed is that his uses a big whop of data at the same time every morning during the week and ONLY after he leaves home to go to work. It knows when he leaves and traveling because it happens within 5 minutes of leaving. He calls me every morning and talks to me on his way to work. What ever it is using the data every morning is tracking him because it knows when he is traveling. I say this because on the weekends it doesn't do it, that's when he is still in bed and not traveling. There will be no data using like that on weekends.
    We have everything turned off, all apps deleted, no email accounts on phone, nothing fetching data, don't even have icloud set up and never had icloud set up, but what is downloading such a huge amount of data every morning?
    I think it has something to do with the 5.1 update but then again why does mine not do it?
    Also, iphone's are a mini computer so is it possible the phones doing this has spyware? Since it seems to know when my husband is traveling. It doesn't use that huge amt of data until he is traveling.
    He has NO GPS app's nothing enabled such as location services, find my phone, etc….
    It just makes no sense….


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