Your AT&T iPhone Data Usage Is Unusually High? Maybe This Is Why

Image courtesy of Productivity 501

We all have iPhones in our house. For the kids and Sami, I got the lowest data plans, because they’re all on the wifi all the time. But weirdly, every month, Maggie’s phone was approaching and going over the limit.

At first, after talking with the AT&T support folks, it seemed that it was just because she was going outside the range of our WiFi modem–which is not that tough, honestly; it’s only a little 2Wire job–and so the phone was flipping her requests to the 3G network. So I disabled 3G on her phone. But still, the charges kept piling up. So I disabled cellular data on her phone entirely. But still the charges kept piling up.

Finally, after hours (literally!) on the phone with AT&T and Apple, it turns out that AT&T polls all its phones for data every night around 2am or so (according to the Apple support guy; the AT&T people were baffled). I don’t know what data is being polled–usage data, at least–but this poll accounts for about 150MB of data every night. In the ordinary course of events (according to the incredibly knowledgeable and helpful Apple support guy), this data is not charged to the customer; it goes in a separate pile in the AT&T accounting. However for Maggie’s phone, this had gotten mucked up somehow, and the data was being added to her overall usage. And at 150MB/night, in the course of your average month, you can see that it can add up  (4.5GB, potentially!).

Fortunately Sami is really good at getting reluctant support people to Do The Right Thing, and she managed to get both the Apple technician and the 2nd tier AT&T person on the phone simultaneously.  The Apple guy was able to understand what was going on in about 3 minutes, and explained it to the AT&T folks in such a way that they were able to go away and start to fix it.  For one, they’re going to (supposedly) set up Maggie’s account so we don’t get changed for those nightly downloads; for another, they are (supposedly) going to refund us the money we had to pay for the overages.  I would like them to also pay the additional fees I’ve been paying for 6 or more months of having Maggie on the 2Gb plan rather than the 200Mb plan, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

What did we learn from my experience?  A few things:

  • Keep a very close eye on your data usage–the figures might not be accurate due to the above problem
  • If you think you are being over-charged for data, follow these steps before you go to bed some night
    • Go to “Settings > General > Network” and turn both 3G and Cellular Data off
    • Go to “Settings > General > Usage”, scroll to the bottom, and tap “Reset Statistics” so that your cellular data totals are
    • In the morning, check the Cellular Network Data totals. If they’re *not* 0, you’re being charged for AT&T’s nightly downloads
  • It takes waaaaay longer to explain your problem to someone who is a non-native American English speaker.  It took me three different AT&T support people and a couple of hours to explain the problem in a way they understood; it took the Apple people I spoke with about 3 minutes each.  I don’t think it’s because the support people were dumb–I spent a couple of years on frontline phone support myself, and would be shooting myself in the foot if I did.  The main difference–aside from the fact that they worked for Apple–is that the Apple guys were clearly native American English speakers, whereas the AT&T folks were not.  (For lots of blathering on this subject, see my personal blog.)  Honestly, I don’t care where you’re from or how well you speak English; if the lack of comprehension on both sides caused by your (oft-times) thick accent, combined with a lack of familiarity with American idioms and expressions, causes you to take an order of magnitude longer to understand and familiarize yourself with the caller’s issue, this is inefficient for both the caller, and the support tech.  Time to fix that, big companies that outsource phone support.

So do you think that your cellular data usage seems weirdly high, when you have WiFi at home, and the only time you ever leave the house is to walk down to Starbucks, which also has WiFi?  Well then, maybe you’re getting bit by the same problem we have been, and if so, it’s time to call AT&T and yell at them about it.  Because after all, you shouldn’t have to pay money because they’re dipping into your phone every night to get information, right?

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4 replies

  1. Some googling on this topic have turned up the following articles that you might find interesting:

    I would also note that I find it very, very discomfiting that, even with *all* cellular data turned off, AT&T can still download information from my iPhone. What information are they downloading, and what are they doing with that information? I don’t know, but when we’re talking about a company that secretly monitors internet traffic for the NSA (, I’m not very inclined to trust in their good intentions.

  2. Very good! I have been hgaving issues on and off for the past 10 months, with this month being the worst. I burned through over 50% of my data plan in 5 days with nothing different from the norm. After talking to several Att reps they resovled nothing. Today I talked with an old friend who works in a different branch and he informed me that weather your in a newtork place like home, work, or wherever…. when your Iphone sleeps it doesn’t transmit over the network but transfers over 3G. Knowing is half the battle but what a pain to have to switch your phone everytime you want to have access when your leaving a network area

  3. well, I called my son, who looked this article up, and he (who lives in Indiana, me down-down south), was surprised to learn this possible problem. Me, I know nothing about tech stuff, my son works in the computer industry, (and I am so proud of him), however, yes, I got one of those non-english-speaking-huh-what’d-you-say(?) AT&T people, ,,,she finally handed me over to her super, who spoke my language, but he (shoulders up, and eyes rolled) didn’t know what the problem was. Oh well, He wants me to take out “more data” plan,,,no,no, no, I said. I don’t really, REALLY need THIS plan. Why would I pay you more for a problem that is clearly not mine? Ok, so he gave me $15.00 credit, so how will this help me next month, I asked? ((((i don’t know, he said)))) He thinks I have a program or app running that MAYBE I failed to log out of. HUH? So, to make a long one short, my son told me to do what you good people did. Except I did’t reset, I left the data count showing as is, and tomorrow, we will check it again. But, here is a thank you, Doug, for helping us to learn about this problem. Learning every day is fun, most times.


  1. iPhone Phoning Home 150MB Per Night to AT&T? -