Ken’s Tech Tips investigates reports of Pay As You Go iPhone customers having their Pay As You Go credit eaten up.

I’ve received several reports from PAYG iPhone customers who complain that their Pay As You Go credit has been mysteriously dropping even though they’ve not made any calls or sent any text messages. This problem usually affects users who don’t have an inclusive data allowance on their PAYG tariff (or haven’t topped up enough to receive their free data allowance). Your iPhone continues to the data connection in the background even if you’re not actively using it to browse the web, etc. Although background data usage is usually fairly small, Pay As You Go tariffs such as O2’s Text and Web charge up to £3/MB for data usage if you don’t top up to get free data. This means that even a small amount of data usage can take a substantial amount out of your credit.

In this report, we’ve got a solution to this problem for iOS 4 users and for everybody else, a few tips on how you can reduce these charges.

The solution (iOS 4 users only)

If you’ve got the new iOS 4, you should disable “cellular data”. This will stop the iPhone and all applications from using data over your mobile connection. It will still allow you to access the internet through wi-fi. If you have an iPhone 3G or iPhone 3G S, you can download a free update to iOS 4 (although many iPhone 3G users report performance issues after the update).

To disable cellular data on iOS4: In the iPhone menus, go to Settings -> General -> Network. Flip the “Cellular data” switch to off.  In order to protect your credit, you should do this every time your free web allowance ends. Flip the switch back to on once your allowance returns.

Whilst you’re there, make sure data roaming is turned off… you’ll be glad you did this if you ever take your iPhone abroad. Whilst abroad, you’d pay about £6/MB – even more than here in the UK!

Other ways of cutting your data usage or reducing data charges

  • Use wi-fi: If you’ve got a wi-fi network at home, make sure you set up your iPhone to use it. Not only will this reduce the amount of traffic sent over the mobile network (and hence your data charges), but you’ll often find downloads via wi-fi faster.
  • Switch to SIM-only tariff: If you don’t current subscribe to a tariff offering data every month, you may find it easier to switch to a cheap SIM-only contract which does. For example, Three’s “SIM Only Internet” deal (see our review) gives you 2GB internet every month for £5. Meanwhile, T-Mobile would offer you 100 minutes, 100 texts and 1GB internet for a tenner a month (choose the “Unlimited Internet” Flexible Booster). Whichever tariff you choose, make sure it has an inclusive internet allowance. We’ve got a detailed guide to the best value SIM-only smartphone tariffs.
  • Close background applications: In iOS 4, with multitasking, it is possible an application is still accessing the internet even if you’re not actively using it. Close background applications when you’ve finished with them to reduce data usage.

Your Comments 13 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 13 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • I was very alarmed at how fast my credit was going on my new android phone. I asked at the shop here in Swaffham Norfolk but was not given any help. I am cross.feel I am being used and a bit of a fool. I could have been given this information about data and Wi-Fi. I wonder why they don’t have that advice at a shop that only sells phones?

  • Hi, i solved the problem of the credits dissapearing without my using them………I turned the Iphone off, left it in the draw in my desk… I don’t get called for daft reasons by anybody, don’t make calls I don’t need to, now the lost credits stay lost and I don’t create more loss…..some solutions are that simple…….My LG mobile phone is on a $9 a month plan and allows me to make serious calls when I want to make them and receive calls when I need to be contacted…….why do I still have the Iphone….it takes photos and plays music and the occasional game when I get bored.

  • Recently changed from a very old basic Sony Ericsson on PAYG to a Cubot H1. The credit I had on the PAYG card quickly began to be used up, and I’d not even made a single phone call! Now I understand why…thanks to your page BUT I cannot seem to find some of the facilities mentioned in the replies, in my model, so is there anyone who could explain which I should disable so as not to loose more money. Have removed the sim card until I can receive some guidance. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Alan,
      Thanks for your comment. Indeed, having the ‘mobile data’ option turned on can very quickly eat up your Pay As You Go credit! The exact instructions for disabling mobile data will depend on your phone (however, on Android, you’re likely to find it through Settings > More > Mobile networks and unticking the box for Mobile data). Alternatively, the Mobile data tickbox might be found through Settings > Data usage.
      Hope this helps,

      • Barbara May replied:

        Is this not a bit of a sales thing that if you PAYG you are going to use data quicker than in a plan. So these companies really just want you to pay a monthly rate . There should be a better way of PAYG for people who don’t make lots of calls on the mob but use their home phone which is already being paid for in a plan with your Provider so why pay twice. I topped up on my i6 phone recently made no calls, emails were replies from emails sent from computer. Anyway of stopping the emails replies going to 3 devices would be appreciated. The only thing even though I turned the phone off after any use it seems to have eaten up loads of data. i6’s carry a lot of extra packages which amount up which ones can you delete safely. I have cut my apps down. Really we shouldn’t have to do all this or be treated like this just because we don’t want a deal or package.

    • Thank you for the reply. Judgeing by some of the other questions about credit going missing, I got off pretty lucky because my amount was only about £20. I did do some other research on Google but found some of the replies confusing, but armed with this page reply I’ll now swop the card out of the old into the new. Many thanks again.

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