6 tips to avoid cellphone 'bill shock'

It’s no secret that browsing the net can get you into all sorts of trouble. One link leads to another and before you know it you’ve used up all your data and probably been to places you shouldn’t have been.

It can also leave you with “bill shock” – a term relating to the reaction on receiving an invoice full of unexpected charges from your service provider.

Roaming overseas had, in the past, contributed to a number of horror stories of travellers who were caught unaware, including Highveld Stereo's radio jock Darren Simpson.

He recently revealed that he had received a bill for R27 000 after a few days in Los Angeles. A caller into his show was expected to cough up R1 million after three days in Mozambique.

In most cases, the service providers – who are arguably not that forthcoming in warning you about the costs of not turning your roaming off – do not take responsibility for these costs. 

And now, new technology could increase this problem.

Increasing LTE coverage across the country, offering lightning-fast data speeds, puts our data bundles under serious threat, says Martin Walshaw, a senior engineer at IT company, F5 Networks. 

LTE [also referred to as 4G – fourth generation – technology] is a “wireless, broadband technology designed to support roaming internet access via cellphones and handheld devices,” explains Bradley Mitchell, a computer whizz and technical writer at About.com

“In the past, slow connection speeds helped to curtail the overuse of data, but with LTE, it’s possible to rack up massive data use pretty quickly,” Walshaw continues.

He advises taking the following steps to curb data usage on LTE devices:

  • Download an app to monitor usage

Apps are available that monitor data usage hourly and let you know when you reach certain pre-set limits. Try Onavo Count for iOS or Android, 3G Watchdog for Android, or DataMan Pro for iOS. And stick to your limits.

  • Buy a data bundle

Data is cheaper if you purchase an add-on to your contract that’s dedicated to data use. Speak to your service provider about your average data usage to decide on the bundle that’s right for you. Keep an eye on your bill and purchase a bundle for a larger data amount if you frequently exceed your original purchase.

  • Sign up for alerts from your service provider

You can request that your service provider sends you an SMS alert when you’ve exceeded a certain data limit. This lets you know when you’re “over the limit”, but it’s up to you to quit driving on the information superhighway after that. 

  • Ask for a 'bill-shock' preventer

Your service provider may be able to lock your phone after a warning sms that your usage is getting too high.

  • Use Wi-Fi whenever you can

If the airport, coffee shop, hotel or friend you’re visiting has a WiFi connection, ask for the password and connect to it. You’ll save a fortune in incidental data costs by not using the cellular network when possible.

  • Be extra careful if you’re roaming

Visit your service provider to find out its data roaming costs. Many people elect to switch off their data capabilities while travelling outside of the country because the costs are just too high.  Buy a local sim card when you reach your destination or make sure you use a combination of the other points mentioned here to monitor and control your usage.

Sources: compnetworking.about.com; tariffic.com