What? No Internet? Again? Living with Limited Data

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I may have sporadic internet use for the next several months. My wife and I are moving back to our little cabin in the woods, on a remote island in the middle of Lake Michigan. Its a place we both love, in a cabin we rebuilt ourselves. After living there for thirteen years, we had moved down to lower Michigan hoping for a better economy. We also had moved closer to family from both sides. However, after pursuing plans in the fast-paced world of a "better economy" and our cost of living actually increasing, we have decided to return to the north country for a while. We will miss our families being farther away, but we can still come down and visit. Plus, when they come up to visit on vacation, we will have them all to ourselves.

Life on Beaver Island

The Island is a thirty-two mile trip out into Lake Michigan, about sixteen miles west of the Mackinaw Bridge. We must take our vehicle across on a three hour ferry ride, then drive a mile and a half inland on a dirt road to reach our cabin. Or when our car is already on the island, we can fly across in a six-seater plane in about twenty minutes. Then we usually find a ride from the small airport out to our cabin. Everyone gives a friendly wave as they drive by. Gaggles of ducks and wild turkey often block the road. The northern woods cover much of the island, which is mostly dirt roads.

We sit on our deck during a warm summer morning. My Mac laptop sits on the deck table, waiting for me to finish my coffee break. Large trees loom over the small front yard, casting shade while we wait for the sun to rise over the nearby woods. The quiet of natural surroundings fills the scene. The distant sound of waves pulverizing the sand, accented with the shrill cry of seagulls, drifts through the trees. A songbird warbles from several blocks away as the scent of warming pine filters through the area. Just then, a pair of mated loons fly directly over our cabin, twilling their song as they head out to the big lake. Far beyond the shoreline and the rolling surf, miles out onto Lake Michigan, a freighter's horn booms softly from beyond the horizon. Then two squirrels chatter at each other from somewhere in the wooded back yard, as the church bells in town over a mile down a gravel road, begin quietly ringing in the day.

If you wish to learn more about our cabin home, Beaver Island, look at the Chamber of Commerce website.

So what could possibly cause an issue in such an idyllic setting? We currently have cell phone service for another four months after the move. We both have iPhones, which has been a huge improvement for my sight adaptation, but we also have something of which we must be leery. The (Gulp!) "Limited Data Plan."

We have decided not to go with the local telephone/DSL internet service until our cell plan runs out, four months after the move. As a result, I have spent lots of time recently going through the cellular settings on my iPhone. After discovering the many places that cell data is addressed, I thought I would share some of my findings. The plan, reduce everything down that may cause data use leaving only email, messaging and possibly Seeing AI, so I can tell whats in the cupboard. Then keep a close and constant watch on my cell data usage. So, to help break free of my limited data prison...

Keys to the Cell

To allow apps to use cell data, go to: Settings>Cellular button. Activate it and in the following screen, make sure that 'Cellular Data' is On. Double-tap to switch it on or off.

Then, in the 'Cellular Data Options' button, I found a bunch of confusing settings concerning LTE and Roaming. We have unlimited voice and text, but most of these still applied because of my particular carrier. Options about types of networks, etc. One important thing I learned after some searching, to avoid excessive roaming and roaming-data charges turn off Roaming for both voice and data. Especially if you are close to any international borders. Having Canada's towers or networks pick us up may not be a good thing, in this case.

as for the LTE settings, I left this on for now, it stands for Long Term Evolution and allows for faster data transfer. Though I have it set for 'data' only. As long as I have Roaming turned off, I should be okay, right? I'll be keeping an eye on this one.

Next there is a section particular to my carrier, WiFi Calling, Calls on other devices, Carrier Services, Personal HotSpot, and possibly others depending on your provider.

Seems like most carriers charge more for Personal WiFi HotSpot plans. I know our plan doesn't allow for it, so lets keep that turned off. The other settings above may depend on your particular service.

Living around Limits

Living around limits is something most of us understand very well. Living on a northern island definitely has some limits, there is only one grocery store, one hardware store, one gas station, yet there are five or six bars and seven or eight restaurants during the busy summer season. That goes down to only two or three during the winter months. The nearest fast-food is a thirty two mile trip across the water to the mainland. Once in a while they fly in burgers or pizza for the school kids, all of them. You can't go shopping at the mall since there isn't one, but there is always a nice walk down main street. Several town establishments have free WiFi available, but for our own cabin I am trying to trim down everything that may use cell data, especially the ones I wouldn't notice until it is too late. We will have to perform these same adjustments on my wife's iPhone as well. So I continue my way down through the Cellular settings.

Next thing I find is the heading "Cellular Data." Below that, I come across some text about data usage for my Current Period, and Current Period Roaming. These are not interactive, but nice to have. Then the list of Apps begins.

To allow, or not to allow

This Cellular Data App list may be extensive depending on your phone usage. In preparation for the move, I will have everything turned off except the following: Clock, Mail, Seeing AI, Phone and System Services.

Hey, this System Services thing is interactive and using the most data. Hmmm. However, the resulting page is just a listing. I can't actually turn them on or off from here. It is a good list of what is using the data, but I'll have to hunt them down manually. It is listed by 'most used first', so it will be handy when we get back to the island and I start turning things off. On the top of the list is SIRI. I guess, I can click on a phone number in Contacts instead of having SIRI dial it for me, I suppose, if I have to. I also have WiFi Assist and iCloud Drive turned off. WiFi Assist will use cell data when WiFi is poor. There are other services that I won't need most of the time, since we'll have no internet at home and I don't want them using data.

System Services that can use Data

Below is the complete list of Services running in the background, that use cell data. They are listed from 'most used' first. I tried to note which ones I could turn off. After going through the major data consumers, I discovered how much digging will be required and decided to leave the lesser ones for messing with at the cabin.

SIRI: In Settings>SIRI and Search, I can find no setting for simply turning SIRI off. Going through its own settings, I will turn off; Listen for Hey SIRI, Press Home for SIRI, Allow SIRI when locked.

Then farther down in the SIRI Suggestions, Suggestions and Search, Off. Suggestions in Look Up,Off.

Then there is another list of every app for which you can give SIRI access. This is to allow info from these apps to appear in SIRI and Search Suggestions. Some of them are turned On by default. I won't go through every app on my own list, but you can customize your own SIRI results here. Then turn on the whole shebang at once with the options above.

DNS Services: After looking around a bit in the places that may access DNS services, I decided that I am not qualified to answer my questions about which apps or connections are needed and which are not. Some of the DNS connections would be for my email and Seeing AI, even on cell data. Then at the cabin I will still set up our Airport Extreme router for our own home network, regardless of internet access. Even home networks may use DNS connections on the network. So, before I screw something up, every good techie knows when to ease back before something bad happens. :-)

Push Notifications: This is pretty much another list of installed apps, I have seven of them turn on with some kind of alert. I may reduce these when we move. Below the list is the government alerts. I will have Amber Alerts off, but leave Emergency Alerts On.

The next section below all use less than 16 meg each. I will set these aside for when I reach our cabin.

iTunes Accounts, Time and Location, iTunes Media Services, Documents and Sync, Mapping Services, Cellular Services, Messaging Services, General, Software Updates, iAd Services.

From here down, each service uses less than one meg, depending on your usage. AppleID Services, Networking, Diagnostics, BlueTooth Services, Security Services, Game Center, Accessibility, Find My iPhone.

When I get back to it again, the idea will be to search through the other settings that may apply to that particular service and reduce possible connections, then come back and check how much data is being used. Maybe that will trim down some of the cell data usage from System Services. Yet, there are still more places to look.

Some Additional Settings to Check

Extra iCloud activity will use cell data, if allowed. To minimize this, go to: Settings>AppleID-iCloud-iTunes&AppStore>iCloud button. Turn off everything you do not wish to sync.

Also in the AppleID settings, click the iTunes&App Store button at: Settings>AppleID-iCloud-iTunes&AppStore>iTunes&App Store button.

In the Automatic Downloads section: Use Cellular Data: Off.

I also turn off all auto-downloads for everything. When I am on a free wifi somewhere, I can go get the particular thins I want by simply loading the app store.

I even turn off Video Auto-Play here, it messes with VO anyway. I don't want to start auto-streaming every video I come across in the App or iTunes Store. I can probably still activate any video I wish, manually.

In-App Ratings and Reviews:Off. Not that I dislike them, but they are not worth accidentally using up data downloading the web form sections, then submitting/uploading those sections again.

Off-load Unused Apps: Off. Not sure when I will be able to get them back again. I can manually remove them from my device when I choose. I don't want the data from this service being used without me knowing.

Quieting Down the Background

We are really looking forward to some peace and quiet at our cabin. The background noise is almost non-existent, often my wife and I are the loudest sounds for a quarter mile in all directions. In order to quiet down the background on our iPhones, I looked at Background App Refresh: Settings>General>Background App Refresh.

I turn this completely off, though I could choose WiFi only. For data concerns, make sure you are not using the 'WiFi and Cellular Data' option. Turning this completely off also helps reduce battery consumption and may reduce peak-load occurrences. I can let apps refresh their data manually by bringing them to the front, I don't need them doing it in the background. I am just not in that much of a hurry.

My Data filled Mail

Since I want to try to use cell data for my email, I want to look at its settings and reduce everything I can. Leaving the General Settings behind, I look at my Mail settings in, Settings>Mail.

At the top is the heading 'Allow Mail to Access.'

The first item is, a 'SIRI and Search, Search and SIRI Suggestions' button. Sounds like a "case for the Department of Redundancy Department" - quote by FireSign Theater. :-) Here I have Search and SIRI Suggestions turned off. I also have Show App turned off as well. I don't need my mail contents showing up in SIRI search results, at least not at the cost of extra data.

I also turned off the Notifications for Mail. I do not need to be notified of every mail that comes in. I will check my mail when I get a chance. Until then, I don't want to know. This may also help reduce Push Notifications, another data-using System Service.

The next item in the Mail settings is Cellular Data option, which I have turned on. Double-tap to turn on or off.

The next settings are under the heading 'Message List'. I have Preview set to 'None'. Most people don't realize that having a Mail Preview turned on can be the same as opening the Message. For security reasons and to reduce data use, set this to none. This applies to the Mac as well. I think pretty much any email browser that previews a selected message in the list, is opening it to retrieve the data first. This may not include standard email header information. Of course, this all depends on your email app and personal settings, but might be something to look into.

The next setting of concern for cellular data is under the Messages heading. 'Load Remote Images: off.' This one prevents email messages from auto-downloading a bunch of images, possibly including photos, graphics, logos and icons, initial movie thumbnails, animations, etc. This can help me go through my mail at the cabin without all the excessive data use. I can probably activate an image in a particular email manually if I wish.

The next heading is Threading. I have 'Organize by Thread' turned off. Since I use IMAP for my retrieval method, Mail has to connect to the Gmail and iCloud servers to show me what is there. Organizing by thread could cause more connection time for each message, loading the data from additional messages in the thread.

Then finally, on to the Composing heading. I have 'Always Bcc myself' turned off. Again, unneeded data taking place. That is all for the Mail App. Lets see if there are any more.

Messing with Messages

With iMessage I could have more elaborate messages with anyone using iOS or Mac. Unfortunately, it also uses cell data for connections. So I will have 'iMessage: Off' at first. Although I may try it for a while once we get to the cabin. Although, it does require an internet connection.

SMS and MMS?

Translation: normal old text messaging. Our limited data plan has free voice calls and text messaging. Wanting to have the capability to text my family from the island, I have 'MMS Messaging: On.'

SMS stands for "Short Message Service. MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service. SMS allows up to 160 characters, any messages longer than that will be split into several messages. MMS allows for additional media, photos and such, sometimes up to 300k per message, depending on your provider.

I am leaving 'Group Messaging' turned on, in case I ever want to mess with it.

'Show Subject Field: off', but 'Character Count: On.'

'Low Quality Image Mode: On.' This will help if I ever send images to someone, and hopefully if they send images to me.

That makes a difference with my data use from our cabin. I can still call and text from home. I can still get email, maybe. I can still use the Messages app for texting. Now I'll do a quick survey through the remaining settings, making sure I find all the other places that may use cell data.

Remaining Apps

Note that most of the following app's settings, if they have the data option, can be turned off or on in the Cellular settings as well as their own app settings. However, some of them may also have other settings that might push the data, if they were allowed.

Maps Data. In: Settings>Maps, a little ways down, I have 'Cellular Data: Off.'

I probably won't get much help from the Maps app on the island, or so I am thinking. There are only so many roads and I know what they all are. I simply need practice navigating them. I can almost see it already, "SIRI, where am I?" SIRI: "You are on Beaver Island, on a dirt road. I will stick with the local's directions instead, "Just turn right where the old Wilson barn used to be. Then a left where Billy fell out of the tree and broke his arm, thirty years ago." :-)

Here are some more apps that can use data, but turned off in the same fashion as the Maps app above: News, Music, Photos, iBooks, Pages, Dropbox, Facebook, KFNB Reader, Messenger, Seeing AI, TED app - Cellular Downloads: Off.

Remember, the apps above have cell data options and can be turned on or off in their individual settings, as well as in the main Cellular Settings.

The apps below can use cell data, but also have additional settings that you may want to check.

Podcasts Data. In: Settings>Podcasts, a little ways down, I have 'Cellular Data: Off.' Then farther down theres 'Only download on WiFi: On.' A little ways more and I found the Episode Downloads heading, with 'Refresh every: Manually.' This is a pop-up menu choice. There is also 'Download Episodes: Off.'

That should keep everything from Podcasts reduced on data usage and ease up on the free WiFi at the library.

photos Data. Here I have everything turned off. No syncing to iCloud, or streaming or sharing. This is mainly to retain space in my free iCloud account. I don't do much with Photos, at least not in a collections fashion. If I did, I would want it to happen on WiFi.

In: Settings>Photos, a little ways down is the 'Cellular Data' button. Following it, I have 'Cellular Data: Off.' Then farther down is, Unlimited Updates: off. The first option stops my photo library from using cell data, the second option prevents my Photo Library from exceeding my data limit, should I allow data usage for the app.

The End of the List

That reaches the end of my app list in the Settings app. Your app list will definitely vary. If you use cell data, even if you have an unlimited plan, it can pay to see exactly what is using up your data and minimize it where ever you can. Even unlimited plans are not really so. Most will throttle your bandwidth around twenty or thirty gig. If you want to save data for your more important apps or services, you should have a look.

On the island, most of the establishments have a free WiFi Hotspot including the Library, Community Center, the Chamber of Commerce and even the hardware store. In the summer, the short mile and a half drive down a gravel road into town is an easy and enjoyable trip. The winters can be another matter, of course. Although, in a small community like Beaver Island, even the shortest trip into town can take minutes or hours longer. The entire town of Saint James is a social hangout, talking with the islanders and getting the latest island happenings. Everything seems to happen at a slower pace, they fondly refer to it as 'island time.' One of the prominent island mottos, even seen on bumper stickers around the island, 'Slow down. This ain't the mainland.'

I am looking forward to our life at the cabin, even though we have many tasks awaiting us. Tasks like; raking two years of leaves away from the cabin and out-buildings, sweeping the spider webs off the buildings and deck, clearing fallen trees and branches from the yard and flatter roof tops, hauling four chords of firewood up a hill to the woodshed area, splitting it all down with our electric log splitter, plus many other chores of the woods. We know from living on the island before, winter is coming all too soon.

Technology-wise, we are on a 5 month experiment with data usage, looking for every corner to cut and allowing for as much as possible without going over our quota. Surrounded by beautiful scenery, living a slower life style while keeping constant vigil on the (Gulp!) Limited Data Plan. Still, I am confident that many times technology will help us through our remaining five months of cell phones. After that, we will probably go for the local landline and DSL service. Then we will have internet at home again. I probably missed a few things above, please feel free to include your own comments and experiences if you wish. I'll most likely have some interesting posts in the future, blending technology and the back-woods together, so get ready to put on your work gloves and get busy. Um, in a while, after our coffee break. :-)

One thing about living with limited data, it will probably remind me that...

All of our cool digital stuff that we work with, play with and enjoy, is all about "Living." Live well!

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11 Comments

#1 Toggling low data mode

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I'd love to see some sort of settings palette feature that would let me easily toggle between normal settings and the type of low-data configuration described here.

After I read this article, we exchanged emails on the subject, and Ted challenged me to see what the Workflow app on iOS can do to simplify changing these settings. If I get anywhere with this, I'll blog about it. Don't hold your breath. LOL.

#2 Out of Breath

First of all... The picture that you painted of our state is spot on. Although I haven't had the privilege of visiting Bever island, I am familiar with places similar. I don't think it gets any better than Michigan during the Fall season. Glad you and your family are going to move back to a slower lifestyle.

As far as the technological challenges discussed in this forum, I'm out of breath just reading the exhaustive search you conducted to reduce the data useage. surely Apple could make this whole thing much easier. One has to really be a geek if you want to limit the data used. Very informative info listed here and some things I will look into for my own data plan.

Very good posting. Thanks for the thorough info.

Enjoy Northern MI.

#3 RE Paul,

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Thanks for the comment. I hope you do get something from Workflow, it would be great to have a low-data profile that I could simply switch to with a click. If I can help somehow, let me know, I have Workflow installed on my iPhone SE. I can test whatever you come up with, if you end up with time. I may play with this some after we get settled, but I will be very busy myself for a while. Although, it sounds like a fun project.
Best regards.

#4 RE Roxann

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Thank you for the great comment. You sound like a Michigander as well. My home town was Davison, just a half hour outside of Flint, which is about where we now live. We fell in love with the small town northern life style and are glad to be moving back.
As for the list, I am glad it may help some. I couldn't believe all the different settings. I still would like to trim down System Services some more, but I needed a break from it to retain my wits. :-)
Best wishes.

#5 RE Roxann

Mount Pleasant is home. So very close.

#6 Nice Post

Thanks for this nice post. I don't live in Michigan, but my brother and I attended Camp Au Sable in Grayling sp? Last I checked, that one was shut down but I could've missed something. My family and I also have friends who had a cabin in Saugatuck, and we spent some quality time with them up there when they owned it. Regarding the technology, I am on a family plan for my iPhone. Yesterday I saw that I could text my carrier, AT&T and they'd text me back with the number of minutes. Pretty cool. I haven't really messed with the other cellular settings yet, but I know they're there. I've been getting a ton of those calls where different phone numbers are spoofed, and just today I received my first text from some place I didn't recognize. Actually I've gotten these before, but it's so nice to have talking caller ID on both my phones now. That's one reason I wanted an iPhone in the first place. Anyway, gotta post this and head downstairs for a potluck.

#7 wish this had been posted last year

I was living in a Sunday school room at my church from September last year until February this year while the house was rebuilt after flooding, and I had no internet and only 10 gigs of data per month with the phone carrier I was with at the time. It wouldn't be a problem now because I've switched carriers and have unlimited everything including data, but I could've used this post last year about this time. Oh well.

#8 The lesson learned from this story…

The lesson learned from the story is that Apple does not make it easy to conserve data usage. It would make too much sense for there just to be a toggle you could turn on or off to go into a data conservation mode. Guess it's not an apples interest to do so so they don't.

#9 RE Great Comments

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Thank you for all the great comments! Apologies for my delays in replying. I suddenly had to leave for a week, spur of the moment. Also in a few days, we will lose our internet service and my contact may be limited for a while. I will miss my morning coffee with AppleVis, but somehow, I will muddle through. We're off on our adventure up north, back to our cabin again for a spell. Maybe in December we can get internet at home, just in time for Christmas.

RE Roxann,
Mt. Pleasant is just a stone's throw away. Howdy neighbor! :-) Its a beautiful area up there as well.
Best wishes.

RE Ekaj,
Grayling is a very nice area. I haven't spent a lot of time there, but have traveled through it many times. In the Cellular settings there may be a Carrier Services button that shows all the codes you can enter to retrieve info about your mobile account, including the balance. While digging I found many settings and features that I hadn't been aware of before. I love that I can adjust so many things, but like Paul, I wish there were a low-data mode.
Best regards.

RE Troy,
Thanks for the comments. I can empathize, I constantly find things on AppleVis that I could have used earlier. If only AppleVis could read my mind and know what I need in the future, I'd be all set. :-) It definitely pays to search AppleVis first.
Note to AppleVis, if you are mucking about in my mind, be careful. Its kind of messy in there. Also I think I lost a guitar pick somewhere, in case you come across it.
Thanks again Troy.
Best.

RE Brad S,
Agreed. I am hoping that they are listening and may implement something in the future. A low data mode that would allow settings for creating a profile would be nice. Maybe looking into the Shortcuts or the upcoming SIRI -Shortcuts might help?
Best regards.

#10 Very helpful post... From another Michigander

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

HI Ted.
Thank you for compiling this list. I see no reason why Apple couldn't set up some kind of profile like this if they really wanted to. It wouldn't directly impact them in a negative way, so perhaps we'll see it at some point. If not, I imagine it may be possible to use the Shortcuts app in iOS 12 to set something like that up, but time will tell as to whether this is the case.
I may end up in Canada later this month while visiting friends and family in Michigan, where I grew up. If so, since it makes very little sense to update my plan for just a day or 2, I'll utilize this post to limit the damage to my wallet. I'll be spending time at the tip of the thumb, where my parents have a summer place, which has a similar feeling to Bever Island I'd imagine. I don't think data is a thing up there, but maybe I'll be surprised. Anyway, I wish you the best of luck with your move and hope you enjoy the rural quiet life.

#11 RE Scott

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hi Scott,
Thanks for the comment. Another Michigander, we really get around. :-) Tip of the thumb is a beautiful area, I have been through there several times in my youth. Very much like Beaver Island. As for low-data mode, Apple seems to be very good about allowing for custom settings and even saving profiles. If I can do it for my printer settings in the standard printer dialog, I should be able to do it for my cell data settings as well. C'mon Apple, we need a low-data profile for our iPhones this fall.
Thanks for the well wishes. Likewise, hope you have a fun, relaxing vacation at the tip of the thumb!
Best.