How to use Chrome to cut your mobile data consumption

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The latest version of Google's Chrome browser for Android and iOS has a nice management feature that should please users and enterprise IT professionals eager to save money.

The bandwidth management settings in Chrome for Mobile have a new feature that allows device owners to reduce their data usage by up to 50 percent.

For people who habitually push the limits of their data plan and are relatively heavy or even moderate browser users, lower data usage could mean a lower bill. And if your enterprise foots the bill for its employees' mobile data plans, Chrome for Mobile's new data reduction feature offers another way to control IT costs.

Given Chrome's relatively low share of the mobile browser market as of December -- 9.7 percent globally, well behind Apple's Safari (54.8 percent) and Google's own Android browser (25.4 percent) -- that might not be a lot of enterprises at the moment.

But Chrome's share of the mobile browser market has more than quadrupled since last February, when it was less than 2 percent. It's likely Chrome will continue to gain users as Google pursues its strategy of integrating many of its services through the browser. 

Chrome reduces your data usage by condensing image file sizes on Google's own servers and sending only HTTP requests to the search giant's servers; HTTPS requests go straight to the destination server. (Note to incognito mode users: Google servers don't handle pages loaded through Chrome's private browsing mode, so it won't reduce data consumption. That's the price of being on the down low, I guess.)

Here's how to activate Chrome's data reduction feature:

  1. Access the browser's dropdown menu by touching the three dots at the top right of your device's screen.
  2. Hit Settings (it's near the bottom so you might have to scroll down).
  3. Hit "Bandwidth management" (also near the bottom, under Advanced).
  4. Hit "Reduce data usage" and then change the toggle switch at the top to "on."

If you don't see "Reduce data usage" under "Bandwidth management" -- I didn't when I first tried to check out this feature last week --  download Chrome for Mobile again through the Google Play store.

Once the data reduction feature is enabled, you'll immediately start saving on browser data consumption. How much you save depends both on the the type of content on the sites you visit and how many of those sites can be optimized.

You can check to see exactly how much data consumption Chrome is reducing by following the first three steps above. Under "Reduce data usage" you'll see a data-savings percentage. Mine currently says "42% data savings."

Click on that and you'll get a chart that tracks your data savings over 30 days. Under the chart you can see the original size of the data accessed through Chrome as well as the amount after compression.

Remember that the amount of data you save fluctuates depending on the type of content you're browsing through Chrome. When I first started checking my numbers, my data savings were in the low 40% range, then quickly dropped to 12% before surging back.

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