All you need to know about Data Sense on Windows Phone 8.1

Windows Phone 8.1 introduces a handful of new features like Cortana, Notification Center and Wi-Fi Sense, but also improves on older features like Data Sense. We’ll be going into detail over the next few days about all the various features. We figured we’d make ‘sense’ of Windows Phone 8.1 by spending quality time with Data Sense, Storage Sense and Wi-Fi Sense. Here’s the page you bookmark to know everything you want about Data Sense.

Data Sense

As much as we’d like, data isn’t unlimited anymore. Depending on your situation, you might be grandfathered into an old unlimited plan, but the vast majority of consumers have a limit to the amount of data they can use on their Windows Phone. Even if you have “unlimited” data, you might have access to the highest speed possible (usually 4G/LTE), but will be throttled to a lower connection after using up a specific amount of data.

Which is why we’re pretty excited that Microsoft has improved upon the Data Sense feature first introduced in Windows Phone 8.0. Now in Windows Phone 8.1, Data Sense is better and more useful than ever.

Data Sense is a feature that helps monitor your data usage and it can even optimize that data, this way your phone doesn’t cost you overage charges. There are a mix of tricks, like compressing browser info, which Data Sense uses to help keep you in within the limits of your carrier plan.

It’s worth pointing out that there are three components that make up Data Sense. There’s the Data Sense app, the Browser Optimization Service (BOS) found in Internet Explorer 11 and the ability to map nearby Wi-Fi hotspots. We’ll take an in-depth look at those features.

Data Sense App

Before you get too excited about Data Sense, you’ll need to be with a carrier that supports the feature. You’ll know your carrier supports Data Sense if you scroll over to the App list and see the Data Sense app. See it? We’re good to go.

The beauty of Data Sense is that you can set up and customize the app to meet your specific requirements. You might be on plan that gives you 500 MB per month or you might have an unlimited plan, it doesn’t matter since Data Sense will still help you.

The first time you launch the Data Sense app you’ll be asked to set a data limit. You can do this at any time if you skip it initially, and you can edit the information you enter whenever you want. Though keep in mind, skipping this step will make Data Sense assume you have an unlimited plan.

You have a few options for selecting a limit in the Data Sense app.

  • None specific – Will help you conserve cellular data, but Data Sense can do more if you enter your data limit.
  • One time – This is useful for those on prepaid plans. Select this option to enter the remaining days until your data expires and the amount of available data. Data Sense will notify you when you approach your limit.
  • Monthly – This is for those on contracts who have a given amount of data that they must use within the month. You can select which day of the month your data resets and how much data you’re allowed to use in that month. Like the above option, Data Sense will notify you when you approach your limit.
  • Unlimited – This is for those who truly do have unlimited data. Most data will go over your cellular connection, but Data Sense will still keep track of how much data you and your apps are using.

It’s very important for you to select either the one time or monthly option if you fit into those situations. Data Sense will help control the amount of data your apps use in the background. For example, if you have a limited amount of cellular data, Windows Phone 8.1 and Data Sense will save certain downloads and background activities for when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. Look for a shield icon over the Live tile for Data Sense on your Start screen.

  • Pro tip: Pin Data Sense to your Start screen, as the app has a Live Tile that reveals your current usage

Through the app, you’ll see the number of days and amount of data remaining if you have a one time or monthly limit set. Do you have an unlimited data plan or didn’t specify a limit? The Data Sense app will still show your cellular and Wi-Fi data use over the past 30 days. The Live tile for Data Sense will also keep all this information surfaced on your Start screen if you pin it, which is why we highly recommend doing it.

Data usage can be sorted by app

All that information about your cellular usage, Wi-Fi usage, days remaining and data remaining is found on the overview page of the Data Sense app. That’s the default view you’ll see anytime you launch, because it’s the most important. But if you swipe to the side you’ll be on the usage page where you can get detailed information about data usage by application. Do you use Facebook a lot? Then you’ll probably see the Facebook app sitting at the top of of the apps list. It’s worth pointing out that this page is sorted by cellular data. This is also a good place to go to see which apps are using more data than you expected. 

Control how your phone uses background data

On the bottom of both the overview and usage page in Data Sense, you’ll see the settings icon. Tap that and you’ll get even more control over how data is used on your phone. Here you can adjust your data limit, which you can also do on the overview page of Data Sense. But this settings page is very important if you want to control how your phone uses background data. It’s also where you control the Browser Optimization Service found in Internet Explorer 11. We’ll go into detail about IE11 further below, but for now let’s focus on background data.

You’ll see two toggles that you can control in this settings page. One is to restrict background data and the other is to restrict background data while roaming. Remember, anytime background data is restricted you’ll see a shield icon on the Live tile for Data Sense.

When you tell Data Sense to restrict background data you’ll have the option to do so only when you approach your data limit or always. Whatever you select will depend on the penalties you have with your carrier for going over your limit. You can also tell Data Sense to restrict your background data whenever you’re roaming, a useful feature if you get charged more when consuming data that is on another network. (Make sure to check your carrier's policy on data roaming).

Again, restricting background data just means that Windows Phone 8.1 and Data Sense will be a little more aggressive with how apps are used in the background.

Find nearby Wi-Fi hotspots with Windows Phone 8.1 and Data Sense

One of those three Data Sense components in Windows Phone 8.1 is the ability to find nearby Wi-Fi hotspots. If you’re on a limited data plan you’ll probably prefer connecting to a local Wi-Fi hotspot vs. consuming cellular data. The feature is officially called Data Sense Wi-Fi Guide and it’s one we’ve seen for a while on Windows Phone. It just gets even better on Windows Phone 8.1.

The ability to find nearby Wi-Fi hotspots is integrated into the native Maps application on Windows Phone 8.1 (Note: Nokia devices will default to HERE Maps instead, which does not have this feature). Over 1 million hotspots around the world are part of Microsoft’s vast collection of public Wi-Fi locations. The data comes from mobile operators, Wi-Fi providers and crowdsourcing. There are a few different ways to find Wi-Fi on your Windows Phone 8.1 device:

  • From the Data Sense app, tap the three dots menu to bring up the app bar and click ‘map nearby Wi-Fi’.
  • When using the Maps application, tap the three dots menu to bring up the app bar, tap show more options and click show ‘nearby Wi-Fi’.
  • Go to settings, then tap Wi-Fi and tap ‘find nearby Wi-Fi’.

Sadly, we couldn’t get Cortana to show us nearby Wi-Fi. We tried a few different commands and it looks like you’ll need to use your fingers to find a local hotspot.

What’s really cool about Wi-Fi on Windows Phone 8.1 is the ability to automatically join nearby networks. There’s a feature called Wi-Fi Sense that will effortlessly connect to free and public Wi-Fi locations by automatically completing the sign-in process for you. We’ll go into more detail over Wi-Fi Sense soon.

Browser Optimization Service in Internet Explorer 11

Uncompressed image on the left and the same image on the right after being compressed.

The third way that Data Sense works to save you data on Windows Phone 8.1 is through the Browser Optimization Service or BOS. This works by reducing the data you consume while browsing the web with Internet Explorer 11. The webpages you view through IE11 go through proxy server that Microsoft uses to compress images, HTML text and JavaScript. This allows less data to be consumed by you when browsing the web. Don’t worry, Microsoft does not store any personal information that goes through their Browser Optimization Service.

You can select between three different modes for browser optimization on Windows Phone 8.1. You can set it yourself be going to Internet Explorer > Settings > Data Sense savings or by going to Data Sense > Settings > Browser data savings. Why they’re called slightly different things in the settings of IE11 and Data Sense is beyond me, but the options available are the same with the same results.

By default, it looks like Windows Phone 8.1 will put you into the Automatic Savings Mode for the Browser Optimization Service, though you can turn it off. Here are the three settings and what they do:

  • Standard Savings Mode – This mode saves up to 45% of browsing data with minimal impact on your browsing experience. Photos are slightly compressed, but we couldn’t really notice a difference.
  • High Savings Mode – This is for when you’re on a very limited data plan or you’re running out of data. Selecting this mode will save up to 70% of browsing usage data. Some ads might not load, images will be compressed even more with a slightly noticeable reduction in quality. If it’s a long webpage you’re on, the bottom half might not load until you scroll down. This is the mode for when you need to save as much data as possible.
  • Automatic Savings Mode – Most of you will be quite happy with this setting. It’ll switch between from the standard saving mode to the high savings mode when you reach the last 5 percent of your data limit.

You can of course turn the Browser Optimization Service completely off if you don’t want any reduction in quality when using IE11. If you’re on an unlimited plan you might want to do that, though we recommend trying out the Automatic Savings Mode just to get a faster browsing experience.

Does Data Sense make sense?

Stay within your data limits by using Data Sense.

Congratulations, we’ll all now experts in how Data Sense now works on Windows Phone 8.1. Feel free to share this article with any friends or family members that don’t quite understand how Data Sense works. Or bookmark it yourself for future reference.

We’ll be looking at the Wi-Fi Sense, Storage Sense and Battery Saver features in future articles. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions about Data Sense below in the comments. You can also ping me on Twitter (@samsabri) if you’re reading this way in the future and I might miss your comment. But the best solution out of all is to head to the Windows Phone Central forums where the community can help you out!

120 Comments
  • AT&T doesn't support it, yet it still appears on my 1020 that I updated via Developer Preview. Will it vanish when I upgrade via the "official" update this summer, or is AT&T finally embracing it?
  • Sadly that's up to the carriers, which is a shame. I loved Data Sense this past year and now it gets even better in Windows Phone 8.1. It's a feature that should be there regardless of the whims of carriers.
  • My sentiments exactly, which is why I'm curious if Microsoft is giving us a sneaky way of using this feature whether the carriers like it or not, or if it will vanish once I pick up Nokia Cyan.
  • It actually is available to all, unless the carrier specifically disables it.
  • That's the problem, AT&T DOES disable it... I only got to use it for the first time after up updating to 8.1, was very happy to see it available. Hope it isn't removed with Cyan, because that will be the "official" update.
  • Tweet ATT Att wireless. Shame them publicly. I'm going to
  • Well, I don't have a Twitter, and unfortunately: I don't think we have enough market share for them to care. :(
  • Yeah loving this data sense on my ATT 920! I I dont understand why att would block this on WP when IOS 7 has a similar feature which does the same thing?? Why block a os feature for one group and not the other...smh
  • Don't see why att wouldn't support. It should be baked into the os regardless. I used data sense on a 620 with no issues on att I don t think it even uses att information. The os itself it seems tracks the usage.
  • There never has been a reason for them not to support it, other than the fact that AT&T wants to make their customers miserable.
  • Last time I checked ATT has their own similar service to Data Sense that they charge for; so that is the reason those bastards don't want free Data Sense for everyone.  
  • It IS baked into the OS and is always monitoring the data usage even if it's hidden away. After installing the developer preview I was able to see data usage data from before installing the preview. It's always there, just the shortcut to it is removed. 
  • Actually it is. It started off being available to only a few carriers, and then was made public to all. The only reason it would not be available is it the carrier specifically disables it in their firmware.
  • Sam could you explain the following. When you have an unlimited data plan, but the speed gets reduced to a very low speed at 500mb, should you set it to unlimited or to a limit of 500mb? The thing I don't know here is whether it will block your data connection after 500mb if you have set that limit. I want to continue to use it at the lower speed to send WhatsApp messages for example. But setting it at unlimited will not give me the compression advantages right?
  • I'd recommend setting it for unlimited. I'd you put a 500MB limit, it won't prevent you from using data, but it will start being more aggressive in preventing background data usage. However with unlimited, it won't bully other apps into not using data, and you can manually set it to compress data. Of course, you could also set it to be limited, then turn off the option to prevent background data. I'd recommend playing around with the settings, and find what configuration works best for you.
  • Very nicely written article.
  • Well it should not be up to the carrier, especially when you fully paid for your phone and have it unlocked. I am no longer with ATT and I will sue them [and MS for allowing it] if they try to limit and remove features from my Phone, ever again.  
  • Bit over dramatic, aren't ya? While I agree it's absurd for them to limit features like that, I don't think any type of law suit world get very far.
  • Maybe they'll put limitations on it?
  • It's on my 1520 as well, although I'm no longer on ATT. I'd guess there's really no technical limitation, since it uses Microsoft's proxies (rather than requiring hardware on the carrier side). Here's hoping it sticks around after the official release.
  • I hope is stays with att. Has been very useful. Not only can I keep track of my data use but others on my family plan too.
  • I've been bugging AT&T about this for a long time and they always tell me to use the My AT&T app. Since the 8.1 update I'm really loving this feature and I hope it sticks around in the carrier- approved update later this year.
  • Indeed. I hate the myAT&T app. I've mostly been relying on typing *3282# into the dialer, but this is so much better. Hope it's here to stay!
  • Problem is myATT does not work on pay as you go [go phone], and it does not work when you leave ATT. So ATT can go Fuck themselves with myATT crapp.  
  • I'm on AT&T in the U.S. and have it on my 1020 as well after the 8.1DP update. I'm sure, as others have mentioned, that once the "official" update rolls out to everyone, and AT&T has their way with it, we'll see it disappear!
  • If that takes place we should see some lawsuits flying ATTs way.  
  • I'm not entirely sure this is law suit worthy. I agree it's absurd, but I don't think we'll be won't any legal battles over Data Sense, unfortunately.
  • Good point Vodafone in Spain deliberately made it unavailable in WP8 chances are that they will make it disappear when they roll out there approved version of 8.1
  • When data sense live tile run, does it consumes battery?
  • Any OS action technically consumes battery. However, the battery being used by Data Sense is very negligible. If it concerns you, head over to Battery Saver to keep an eye on it.
  • Ok. I was just concern on rapid drain of the battery after i put this live tile of data sense and other apps with live tile. Also, maybe its only me but after i switch to more tile option, battery runs down faster. Or, 8.1 update really has a problem on battery loss?
  • The OS itself seems to be less battery efficient. Here are some tips: ~ Many (myself included) seem to find that changing Gmail (if you have it set up on your phone) seems to be a battery hog, and switching it to sync manually can help. I tried it, and my battery life has signifigantly improved. This is likely due to the fact that 8.1 changes how WP syncs with Gmail, and I guess the new method is less battery efficient. ~ Location services are going rouge for some, due to geofencing requiring apps (especially Cortana) to constantly be aware of your location to function properly (I.E: location based reminders). End result: higher battery consumption, especially if you have poor GPS signal. ~ Disable sync my theme, or any other settings you don't find critical to sync. This is because syncing requires a constant ping with the server to make sure everything is up to date. Shouldn't normally require too much power, especially if it's push, but for whatever reason, seems to really eat away at the battery. ~ Turn off WiFi sense, such as automatically conecting to WiFi hotspots and sharing WiFi with select people. These require the phone to always been scaning for WiFi, which is rough on the battery. ~ Many other things you can try. Play around with the settings and find what works for you. Also, take a look at wpcentral's very own forums, and have a look at some relevent threads to get some tips on how to improve your post-8.1 battery life. Good luck!
  • The only change I made was to disable Wi-Fi sense, then my battery which was draining badly, was back to normal again .
  • Thanks a lot! Some of your tips i missed like wifi sense and syncing Issues. I have a feeling that those are the reason of my battery problem.
  • Glad to help. Also keep in mind the OS requires a few days to "settle" as it reinstalls and optimizes everything. Nokia Cyan should help also. Hang in there, or batteries will be back to normal soon enough, I suppose.
  • Well yeah i did turn off the wifi sense and other things and after a day and a half the battery went back to normal, and i guess youre right its more optimize than the old OS.
  • Background image?
  • Ha. I think going forward we just need to automatically include the link to our Start background images at the end of posts. Here you go: http://wallbase.cc/wallpaper/353860 <3
  • Thx! :D
  • thats a great idea. also can u post all the cool WP 8.1 walpapers pls.
  • If you restrict data always it'll save battery. Thing is your live tiles won't update till you get to WiFi. I find having WiFi on always and always restrict data to be the best combo if you need battery life over function.
  • Best app ever. Saved me thousand times from paying like ₹1000 extra
  • This is one of those features that doesn't get enough attention. Personally I'm on an unlimited plan, so I don't need it as much as others. But like you said, this Windows Phone feature is a life saver and can save you pricey charges for going over your data limit.
  • This isn't unique to WP. Android has had a limit since at least 4.0 came out. I think iOS has a similar thing. It's great, but it's not unique to WP and what's worse is a lot of carriers block it for some reason yet let Android keep its equivalent thing. 
  • Ya, but its not just a limit. Im not sure if the competing OSs have data compression and all of the other cool stuff data sense has.
  • That is 100% Microsoft's fault for allowing Carriers to mess with key OS features. Microsoft needs to stop this shit unless they want to have the same stellar reputation the US carriers currently have.    
  • Wow awesome background
  • So if I set my IE Data Sense saving into High Savings Mode. My browsing will be faster because of the compressed images?
  • Not like a billion times faster, but you are loading less data. You should totally test it. And then find out if it blends.
  • Maybe. It adds an extra step between the server and you. The BOS server has to download and compress the image before your phone can load it. So it's theoretically possible that it could slow down your browsing if you have a really fast connection to your phone.
  • Will the update on 22nd fix the battery life of our operating system or the cyan update?
  • Where did you get to know that an update is bound for Tuesday? I thought it was the Xbox Music update only.
  • The article by Sam mentioned about fixes and improvements of Xbox music Cortana and general fixes
  • "you’ll need to use your fingers to find a local hotspot."
    Always have done... :)
  • In the third paragraph under the section about BOS you have "Be default," I think you meant "By default."
  • Thanks. Fixed.
  • I just wish that it supported the day my plan resets, which would be the 29th.
  • amen, I had that same misfortune.
    Oh well... I was hoping they'd fix it.
  • It does.  Just click on Set Limit, pick monthly, and select the day it resets.  If you have unlimited put some crazy amount of data, I guess.  Or put the amount of data it takes to get throttled.
  • the day picker only goes up to 28, unless I'm mistaken
  • Exactly.
  • It annoys me that you can't set a monthly reset date on the 29th >.> That's when mine resets >.>
  • wtf. thats weird.
  • Proof:   http://i.imgur.com/bk6q2T5.png
  • Ok so this article explains perfectly. But overages isn't my issue. Its reception. I have 2G on TMO like 90% of the time with 3 bars. So my concern would be how to get the most speedy experience by thinning out the bandwidth... Can someone explain to me what settings would work for me? Judging by the article... I think default is best... But not sure.
  • "data isn't unlimited anymore". Are you saying it used to be? What happened to it? We've never had closet to unlimited over here.
  • Let me tell you of a better time, when unlimited was not even 15USD/month and the streams of internet flowed like lazy, but plentiful and wide rivers... Then the iPhone came and ruined everything.
  • I see. So to recoup all the money they were losing on the iPhone, they had to remove unlimited data? Also I guess they became scared of unlimited data on phones that can run Skype, otherwise they lose their main business.
  • Smart phones used to require a smart operator, but the iPhone ushered an age of a smart phone for the everyman, so certainly carriers felt a sudden stress on their network at the time. However, carriers have since expanded their networks.... But their greed is such that they would rather inconvenience us for the massive profits they no longer need to use for expanding.
  • Lol. I get unlimited 4G LTE in the UK for £12 a month on Three. Posted via the WPC App for Android!
  • Ready for a shock? My $130NZ p/mth plan gets me unlimited calls and texts to NZ and Australian numbers (which is cool but I never use), and -- wait for it -- a whole 2GB of mobile data. You can get the same amount of data for less, but I got the plan because it was the only way to get my Lumia 925 for free (outright was $1000 at the time).
  • This is why I'm sticking with T-Mobile ..... Data should be unlimited, especially on my Nokia Lumia 1520. Tomorrow it's Premiere League English Soccer on NBC Sports extra App.
  • I guess Data Sense makes a lot of sense. I have been unable to use up my 4gb data limit for the month, still have 1gb data and 4days to go. Earlier I was contemplating to upgrade to a bigger more expensive data plan, but now I'm thinking of rolling it down. This is awesome.
  • It saves you money either way ;)
  • I need ur background pic man! Its awesome!
  • That start screen reminds me of someone else's, Sam! Looks good :)
  • This carrier internet and all other carrier features are mainly in the US and other counties like UK, Aus, etc. I'm from India and here we don't have this unlimited data. We subscribe for a data pack and switch it off whenever we need it. I don't find Data Sense useful at all. But there was hugely a need for Data Toggle in action centre. Can't believe MS didn't add it. That was disappointing :(
  • I'm lucky enough to have great T-Mobile coverage, so I use this simply because I'm an information sponge when it comes my phone. ATT finds ways to make things harder for their customers to control their cost and the way the market is changing it won't last much longer.
  • If Optus disables datasense I will be writing to the ACCC. Having used it for the first time with the preview I can only say that if a carrier is disabling Datasense they are deliberately trying to force you over your limits to incur penalty charges.
  • side note: although you can't use Cortana to connect to WiFi hotspots, you can use it to "turn on WiFI", and "turn off WiFi"
  • I have Unlimited Data on Globe Telecom (Philippines) so I set it to Unlimited but some subscriber are whining about the FUP(Fair Use Policy) by the Telecom which is 1GB/Day from Prepaid and Postpaid Subscribers. But I don't still get throttled even if I've reached 8GB in a day. Maybe because I only connect to HSPA+.
  • That wallpaper in the first picture looks beatiful! Funny! it reminds me of Mac OS X though!!!
  • I have unlimited data plan, does this mean I can download everything in mobile data?
  • Still Can't clear history
  • Instead of "Post your homescreen" you can now put animated gifs: http://img.acianetmedia.com/i/Qq64M.gif
  • What I find odd is that data sense apparantly only works if its supported by the carrier. More over what I find odd is that one also has to manually input the data cap or plan. Then I wonder why this app is. called data sense and why a user has to do a manual input of the plan if data sense only works with carrier support. Wouldn't it be logical that the app "senses" this automagically?
  • It puts you in control to set alerts and limits over data usage. If you're complaining about the control at your fingertips, I have to wonder. Either way, your data plan is what it is but the fact that we can control how the browser reacts after reaching a certain user defined limit is a bonus. Now I agree with you on the carrier approval thing.
  • This is one of my new favorite features since as of late I have been hitting my 3gb of LTE high speed data before I get throttled down to slower speeds after that.
  • I think that is important to know that there are also some APIs for developers the can manage the data usage of their apps choosing to postpone task that use data transfer until a Wi-fi connection is available when approach the data limit or you are over, they can also choose to stop at all the data connection when you are near the limit or reduce the data usage by download or upload contents that are more compressed and is the developer that must provide this kind of content.
    If use