What Uses Data On iPhone? Using Too Much? The Fix!

turning off background refresh in iphone

Which App Is Using All My Data?

It’s time to dive in and discover which app is using so much mobile data. Fortunately, since the release of iOS 7, Apple included a helpful tool to help us get to the root of the problem. Head to Settings -> Cellular, and we’ll find lots of helpful information that should help us figure out which app is sending or receiving so much data.

The setting you’ll see first allows you to turn off Cellular Data entirely, which you may want to do to avoid a hefty phone bill if you’ve already exceeded your monthly data allowance. Next, you’ll see an Enable LTE option, with a helpful hint that says “Using LTE loads data faster.”

It also uses mobile data faster. If you’re trying to conserve data, you might want to try going without LTE for a while — but I can’t guarantee this will fix your problem. I recommend you keep reading before you decide whether or not to turn off LTE.

Next, scroll down to the Cellular Data Usage section. There’s one piece of this section that might be confusing: When you see statistics about ‘Current Period’, the Current Period listed here does not correspond to your iPhone’s billing period with your carrier.

On your iPhone, ‘Current Period’ displays the amount of data you’ve used since you last reset the data usage statistics on your iPhone. I’ll show you how to do that in a little while. If you already know how, don’t reset your statistics yet, or we might end up deleting some helpful information.

apps with the most data in iphone

The Long List Of Apps

Scroll down to the Cellular Data section and you’ll see a list of all the apps on your iPhone. Under each app, you’ll see how much data that app has used since you last reset your iPhone data usage statistics.

Scroll down through this list and look for any anomalies. Like we discussed above, apps that use video and music, and possibly some games, probably use the most cellular data on your iPhone. Next to each number, you’ll see KB, MB, or GB. Here’s how to interpret them:

  • KB stands for kilobytes. There are 1000 kilobytes in 1 megabyte, and kilobytes are very small pieces of data. Don’t worry about apps that are using kilobytes – that means they haven’t used much data at all.
  • MB stands for megabytes. There are 1000 megabytes in 1 gigabyte. Megabytes can add up fairly quickly, but if an app has only used a few megabytes, don’t worry about it. If it’s an app that uses video or music like Pandora or YouTube, it’s normal for it to use lots of megabytes. If you have a 2GB data plan, for example, you can use 2000 megabytes per month. Remember, however, that if you’ve had your phone for a while and you’ve never reset these statistics, these numbers are from the whole time you’ve owned your iPhone, not from your carrier’s current billing period.
  • GB stands for gigabytes. Most cell phone data plans are measured in gigabytes, and you might have a 2GB or a 4GB plan. I have a 4GB plan that includes mobile hotspot since I like to use my laptop on the go, which means that I can use 4000 MB every month without going over my mobile data allowance.

At the bottom of the list of apps, make sure to tap on ‘System Services’. If you’re using the Messages app to send or receive pictures or videos when you’re out and about, you might be surprised by the amount of data ‘Messaging Services’ is using. If that’s the case, try to use Wi-Fi whenever you send iMessages or MMS messages.

tap system services settings app

If you see apps that are using GB of data, congratulations are in order! You may have discovered the culprit! If it’s a video app, a music app, or a game, try to limit your use of that app to when you’re on Wi-Fi. On the other hand, if you’re saying to yourself, “Hold on a minute — that app shouldn’t be using so much data. Something must be wrong!”, you’re probably right.

Sometimes apps crash, and when that happens, an app can get stuck trying to send or receive data. That earlier tip about closing out your apps might just solve your problem. Try closing the offending app, and the next time you open it, the problem might be resolved. If an app continues to use way too much data, it might be time to look for an alternative in the App Store.

Do An Experiment: Reset Statistics

OK, detective: You think you’ve solved the problem with your iPhone using too much data, but let’s set it up so we can make sure in the future. Head back to Settings -> Cellular and scroll all the way to the bottom. Tap Reset Statistics and all the data usage information will disappear. It’s a fresh start.

reset data statistics

Wait a day or so, and come back to this screen. You’ll see how much data has been sent and received since your last reset. Come back a week or so later, just to double check that everything’s still hunky-dory.

something wrong with email in iphone

Still Stumped? Check Out Mail.

If you’re still not sure which app is causing your iPhone to use so much data, it will be helpful to know whether your iPhone is sending (uploading) or receiving (downloading) too much data. To your carrier, data is data — they’ll charge you whether your iPhone is sending or receiving data.

For the purposes of this discussion, however, knowing if your iPhone is trying to upload or download data can point us toward the source of the problem, especially if the data is being uploaded. If it’s not on your bill, you should be able to find out how much data is being uploaded and how much is being downloaded by logging into your account on your carrier’s website or by giving them a call.

I once helped my mom solve a problem with this very issue. She was burning through her data, and we discovered that one of her email accounts wasn’t set up correctly. She had a message “stuck” in her Outbox, and her iPhone was trying to send it over and over again, even though it kept failing.

By logging into the her account on her carrier’s website, I found out that her iPhone was sending (uploading) an inordinate amount of data, which caused me to ask, “What could be sending so much data?” Sure enough, the iPhone was stuck trying to send an email, and when we corrected her mail server settings and the mail actually sent, the problem was resolved.

Moral of the story: If your Mail isn’t sending or receiving correctly, even if it’s from just one account, that could be causing this problem.

Wrapping It Up

I really hope this article has helped you to discover why your iPhone has been using so much data. I’ve received a number of requests for help with this very issue on Ask Payette Forward, and I know lots of people have been very frustrated by this issue. I’ll be here to help to the utmost of my ability and I look forward to hearing about your personal experiences in the comments. Which app was using the most data on your iPhone? There may be other “data hogs” that I’m not yet aware of, and we all can help each other with this.

Thanks again for reading and I wish you all the best,
David P.

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About Author

I'm a former Apple employee and the founder of Payette Forward, and I'm here to help you with your iPhone.

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Joan Williams
6 months ago

The only thing I have a question about is that when I look at my System Services, there is nothing beside it. No number indicating usage. Why might this be?

Joan Williams
6 months ago

Thank you for a well-written article. It was quite useful

Frances Willems
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing this very informative troubleshooting advice.