CRAWFORD COUNTY - Power outages, like the one that occurred in northern Crawford County on Wednesday, Feb. 28, can cause unexpected things to happen with mobile devices that are plugged in and operating at the time of the outage.
Personally, I was at work while operating a tablet device to stream music for my dogs – yes, they’re pampered dogs. Anyhow, I was busy at work rebooting our server computer and making sure that all was operating properly. When I got home, I reset some of the clocks in the house, and went on my merry way.
The next week rolled around, and my family started to receive text messages stating “you are running over on your data for the month.” I honestly thought I’d been hacked, and was gearing up to call my cellular provider to report this situation.
Fortunately for me, I am the mother of a 20-something, who has a little more digital-age-savvy than I do. My son remembered something like that happening with his girlfriend’s phone, and quickly got me into the settings on my tablet where I could see that I was streaming music all day using not my wifi, but rather cellular data. (By the way, I also find the TV clicker to be a virtually incomprehensible mystery…)
Apparently what happened is when the power went out, we also temporarily lost our wifi connection. My tablet automatically shifted to accessing the world-wide-web using cellular data to continue its ongoing operation of streaming the music.
The trouble was, when the wifi came back on, the tablet didn’t shift back. I couldn’t see any difference in how the device was operating, so it never occurred to me that there might be a problem.
Typically my tablet is on, accessing the web most of the time, either streaming music, showing the weather forecast, or for general family use when a computer isn’t available. I don’t really ever truly power it off.
Anyhow, I was able to switch back to wifi, and called up my cellular provider to explain the situation and see what could be done. Because I had absolutely no history whatsoever of going over on my data, the associate I spoke with seemed confident that I could have the $15 charge waived.
But all of this got me thinking, “I bet other people have experienced a problem like this, and what can we do to protect ourselves?”
Proprietor of Waxwing Technologies Jake Stephens explained that the main thing to do to protect yourself from these kinds of inadvertent cellular data overages is to use the tools available on your cellular devices to control how those devices use data.
“The settings that allow you to control how your devices use cellular data tend to be buried down in the systems preference (for Apple devices) menus where many people don’t look,” Stephens explained. “On an android device it might be called something else, but it is basically settings.”
In the case of a tablet, Stephens said, some are set up to be data-enabled, and some aren’t. If your tablet has a phone number and a sim card, then it is data-enabled.
“I can’t actually use my tablet to make a phone call,” Stephens explained. “The main reason to have your tablet be data-enabled is to be able to use it as a wireless hot spot for your other devices or to have access to the internet in a remote location, because tablets generally have a stronger antenna than your phone does.”
Stephens told me there are basically two options to take control of how my tablet accesses cellular data, and to prevent inadvertent cellular data overages like I recently experienced.
“The easiest way is simply to take your device off your cellular plan – in other words stop paying for it to have data access and get rid of the phone number,” Stephens said. “You will still be able to use your wifi or other wifi with the device to access the internet.”
Stephens said you could also just leave the tablet on your account but “pop out the sim card” to prevent it from jumping to cellular data from wifi, when there is a power outage.
The slightly more complicated way is to go into your device (phone or tablet) settings, and either turn the cellular data ‘on’ or ‘off.’ For Apple devices using the IOS 10 operating system, you would go into System Preferences, and then find the ‘cellular data’ menu item, and slide the setting from on to off. If your device is using IOS 11, it is slightly more user-friendly, with a screen that gives you four colored buttons for wifi, cellular data, Bluetooth, and airplane mode. You can select or deselect any of the options by simply “pressing” the button.
US Cellular guidance
Many people in the area use US Cellular as their cellular service provider. US Cellular has the following advice to offer local residents:
When Wi-Fi is not available, as in the event of a power outage, devices typically default to cellular data. The user can control if that automatic transfer will occur within their phone settings.
To assist, U.S. Cellular has some tips to ensure customers are not draining their data allotment when Wi-Fi is not available:
The most comprehensive fix to avoid using your cellular data is to turn it off in your settings. By doing this, you restrict all data to Wi-Fi and ensure that in the case of an outage, cellular data is not used.
Keeping an eye on apps
Stephens from Waxwing went on to elaborate that in addition to turning the settings ‘on’ or ‘off,’ you can also see what apps (on an Apple device) are using the most amounts of data, and selectively restrict those programs use of cellular data. US Cellular echoed this advice.
“The kinds of apps that tend to be the data hogs are the ones that are always trying to sync and access updates off the web,” Stephens explained. “So on an Apple device, the App Store is one obvious program that tends to use more cellular data.”
Stephens also listed apps such as Drop Box, Google Drive, and anything that streams content such as movies or music.
Helping to configure your devices access to internet and cellular data is one of the kinds of services that Jake Stephens and Waxwing Technologies can provide when helping to set up a home network.
You can reach Waxwing Technologies at 608-735-4242, or firstname.lastname@example.org.