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MHays Level 1 Level 1

AT&T and iPhone data use charges - WiFi and cellular link options


Many people have complained about unusual data usage charges on their AT&T iPhone bills -- often 10s of megabytes in one transaction, posted in the middle of the night.  Here are a couple of updates based on the AT&T support portal:


WiFi vs cellular link:  Connecting to a local WiFi hotspot and turning off your cellular data connection will block cellular data transmission and related charges.  (Except for SMS messages, which are very small.)  There are some gotchas, however:  (a) If your iPhone goes 'to sleep' (the screen goes black), it will revert to the cellular data  link, unless it is plugged into a charger.  (b) Even if your iPhone is plugged into a charger, it will revert to a cellular data connection if the WiFi link drops, e.g. due to a momentary glitch with your internet provider or electric power supply, so.... (c) The only way to completely ensure that your iPhone will not revert to a cellular data connection is to turn it completely off.  You (obviously) will not be able to receive calls, however.


Large data transactions in the middle of the night: Unusually large 'chunks' of data that are apparently sent around midnight are a related issue.  You may think that you could avoid these mystery charges by making sure you have a WiFi connection running at night.  A number of 'czars' on AT&T's site stated, however, that this is are simply an artifact of AT&T's billing system, which "aggregates" transactions that occur throughout the day into one summary charge, which is posted in the middle of the night.  If this is accurate, the data connection(s) you use throughout the day will determine how large this 'summary' transaction will be.


Note:  Our bill does not appear to square with AT&T's explanation.  For example:


39   04/06/2012    09:36PM   phone   Data Transfer   7 KB    0.00
40   04/06/2012    10:35PM   phone   Data Transfer   7 KB    0.00
41   04/06/2012    10:41PM   phone   Data Transfer   369,759 KB    30.00


If all of the data from 6 April was 'rolled up' into the massive 369.8 megabyte transaction at 10:41pm, why are there two small transactions at 9:36pm and 10:35?  We installed Onavo to try to get to the bottom of this;; I will post the results at the end of the current billing cycle.


Mark Hays

iPhone 4S, iOS 5, iPhone and AT&T unusual data usage
  • asfdj Level 1 Level 1

    Tracking data issues is always a challenge. If the iPhone "Cellular Data Usage" reflects AT&T's numbers, then you're on the right track. But if the usage on the phone doesn't support AT&T's numbers, you have a different problem.

  • Kkashyyyk Level 1 Level 1

    What could the differant problem be? I am having the same issue and the phone does not reflect the same data numbers.

  • SavedByTechnology Level 1 Level 1

    This has been a chronic issue as well with my wife's iPhone (and mine to a lesser extent).  It is the only reason we had to upgrade her to the 2GB data plan.  She has already logged over 200MB of data in seven days since the beginning of her last billing cycle, most of which occurs during overnight hours when we are asleep.


    To help isolate the issue, I had my wife turn off her phone completely at 10:00PM last night, and we did not incur any data usage after that.  The phone was turned back on this morning, and I am monitoring the issue closely.  My iPhone was left on during the night, and I found a data usage timestamp of 12:58AM for 48KB of data.


    Given the fact my wife's line does not show any logged data usage on the AT&T website while her phone was turned off, I don't believe AT&T is logging any aggregate data usage for the prior day.  Also, if you look at the sample log below, the data 'sent' is what is being sent to the phone, not what is sent to the network.  I have verified this by performing an app update and noting the file size,


    05/1112:58 AM  phone   Internet/MEdia Net Sent48KB


    In summation, I believe either AT&T is either pushing ghost data to the iPhone to get the customer to move to a higher data plan or Apple/Developer(s) is pushing real data for some unknown reason.

  • itunes_novice Level 1 Level 1

    My problem is that AT&T's usage reporting does not track with my iPhone OS cellular data tracking.  I have been using the "DataMan" App to try and figure out which apps might be using large data bursts (10's of megabytes) when I have no idea why the phone would be consuming so much data.  DataMan and the iPhone OS data tracking seem to match but AT&T will show these large data usage bursts.  I cannot isolate which apps might be using the data behind my back via DataMan when the phone OS and DataMan do not show the usage.... 

  • asfdj Level 1 Level 1

    @itunes_novice - Is the discrepancy huge? Or just off by 10% or so?


    If the discrepancy between the iPhone and AT&T numbers is several hundred percent, you won't be able to find the app using the data because the data use isn't really happening.


    My suggestion is that you call AT&T and keep calling back in until one of their first-level support reps creates a case number for you. If you own a Microcell, be sure they include that information in the case. If the support rep tries to blame an app, Siri, or some other phone data usage, politely insist that the iPhone numbers are much lower than AT&T's numbers and you want them to open a case. If they don't, call in again and find a new rep. There are reps at AT&T that will understand your issue if you find the right one.

  • itunes_novice Level 1 Level 1

    Discrepancy is huge.  The curent billing cycle data descrepancy is AT&T=156MB, iPhone=23MB.  The vast majority of the 156MB AT&T is showing came in very large bursts, 10's of MB at a time.  That's just not the way I use my phone.


    I will try calling AT&T but I have tried that once before.  During the last month's billing cycle I had 75% of my monthly allotment used up after 1 week.  I diligently kept my cell data turned off unless absolutely necessary (as you may know that kinda defeats the purpose of a mobile smart device...) and kept under my cap for the month.  Now this month, the same appears to be happening. Of cours AT&T doesn't care what my iPhone OS data tracking or DataMan says,  the only thing that matters to them is what AT&T's records show.  Clearly there is a problem somewhere....  Maybe I should have pressed the AT&T rep harder for answers. 

  • asfdj Level 1 Level 1

    Yes - press harder. Be sure you're looking at a two week period to eliminate overlap. Mine is 200MB vs 2.5GB


    99% of the calls to AT&T about data are an end user issue and the phone really is using the data. So they give that answer 99.9% of the time. You're in that .9% and need to press for them to investigate. If you don't own a Microcell and this data is happening from the towers, see if you can request a free SIM swap. That might be the fastest way to go. Good luck.

  • danwallie Level 1 Level 1

    I'm in the same boat, ~10x more usage reported by AT&T than by DataMan/iOS trackers. I've called AT&T several times and almost every time they have to 'reopen' my issue. They seem to love closing out issues without any real resolution. Keep bugging them and update us if you get any answers. I'm about 1 day away from paying that ETF and Ebaying my iPhone...

  • asfdj Level 1 Level 1

    danwallie wrote:


    ...They seem to love closing out issues without any real resolution....

    You noticed that too? I think they look at it, think "Oh that's actual work - it's too hard" and close the issue. The people who actually work on this stuff seem to be locked away somewhere in a tower with no phones and no email - or the company policy is to provide multiple layers of middlemen between the troubleshooters and the customer.


    I had to make a lot of noise to get them to sit up and take notice. I'm actually getting calls from some techs now, at least for the past 10 days or so. My phantom data usage issue seems to be tied to my Microcell, but I know others are experiencing this without that device as well. It's pretty alarming that they're basing decisions such as billing, or throttling, on flawed measurements. My troubles began about March 13th, on two lines, and are still unresolved.


    The good news is that AT&T believes me now. Getting them to stop reading from scripts was no small task. I buried them with screenshots, statistics etc. I really do sense they are aware of the problem at this point, but I'm not confident anyone there understands their system well enough to actually fix it. There's been a lot of reprovisioning, rebooting etc, with no result. I will post back if I see progress.

  • danwallie Level 1 Level 1

    It's encouraging that they're listening to you. I wonder if the Microcell shares some of the same guts as their public networking equipment that might cause this issue for others on iOS 5.1. Thanks for the update.

  • danwallie Level 1 Level 1

    Quick update: I finally managed to push the issue with AT&T hard enough that they created an ICU case for me. After talking with the tech support guy and sharing my DataMan reports with him, he confirmed that the actual AT&T usage logs match the iOS reports very closely, yet the billed usage is 10x higher. So it seems they have a problem in their billing system. Hang in there if this issue is still affecting you.

  • itunes_novice Level 1 Level 1

    My update....  Not happy with AT&T.  After waiting several days for a response from AT&T, I got a call from someone who was likely a screener prior to escalating my issue.   I think she was supposed to go over all the obvious things like using WiFi whenever possible and that sending and receiving large files and apps running in the background etc.  All things I'm painfully aware of and did not need to hear again.  Once she understood that I know all that stuff, that I don't stream music or videos and whenever I need to download anything of and size (podcasts, etc) I always wait till I'm in WiFi, she passed my case along to their IT folks.  Then yesterday I got the call from AT&T reiterating that all their data records show that it was my phone, my SIM ID etc. using the data.  Unfortunately, that does not help my issue at all.  My iOs tracking and Dataman do not show the data usage that AT&T is showing so there's no way to take action on my side.   The only thing that works for sure is for me to turn off my cellular data connection unless I need it for an individual task like updating email etc.  If I only enable cell data when I need it, my daily / weekly usage per AT&T goes way down.  This makes me think there is some software issue on my phone where some apps are stuck in a loop at times sending / receiving data without reporting the usage to iOs or Dataman.  I'm not exhonorating AT&T just yet but I can at least say that when my cell data is off, AT&T does not see any activity.  What next????

  • danwallie Level 1 Level 1

    I would encourage you to not accept no for an answer on this. Ask them where you may email your DataMan logs and ask them to compare them to their usage logs. (I wasn't able to do this until my case was escalated to the ICU.) As I mentioned before, when I did this, they found that their monitored usage of my IMEI matched very closely to DataMan reports I sent them.


    My CSR has tried to dismiss this as a temporary artifact of their billing system that I should rest assured that the charges won't appear on my final bill. There are two problems with that excuse: 1) these strange charges did appear on my March and April bills, and 2) AT&T urges me to upgrade my data plan as soon as I exceed thresholds. Scaring customers into upping their plans based on false usage is a lawsuit waiting to happen. I hope that the CSR was just mistaken about this.


    Another interesting development: during the course of discussions with AT&T I agreed to let them upgrade my plan to a 3GB plan on the condition that I could revert back to the 200MB plan later when this issue is resolved. While my plan was rocking 3GB, the usage on my AT&T accound suddenly started matching my DataMan stats! So after 3 days of this I spoke with my ICU rep again and asked to revert back to the 200MB plan (no need to throw $15 a month away). Since the reversion my account has not updated with any internet usage, so I won't know if the problem is happening again until June 8. I will update then.

  • asfdj Level 1 Level 1

    If your iPhone isn't reporting that data, and your battery life seems to be strong, it's not the iPhone.


    AT&T SIM, AT&T Tower, AT&T Data Collection, AT&T Billing System


    The problem is AT&T's system. Only AT&T can fix that. But they are sadly incapable. They simply don't have anyone on staff (250,000 employees) with the complete understanding of the end-to-end process. And they don't have effective diagnostic tools. They've been flailing around in the dark on my issue for 8 weeks. If they had any capability to pinpoint the problem, they would have done so by now.


    I ended up pulling the plug permanently on my Microcell. My data usage numbers are back to normal. And when my contract is up, my five lines are gone.

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