Mobile Data Plans: Managing your Cap

Mobile Data Plans: Managing your Cap

It has been about one year since AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans to new smartphone customers and now Verizon has followed suit. Existing customers can still be grandfathered into unlimited data plans, but this decision is representative of a larger trend in wireless data use.  According to a white paper from Cisco, “Global mobile data traffic grew 2.6-fold in 2010, nearly tripling for the third year in a row.” The white paper also indicates that data use per smartphone has more than doubled in 2010, and that the average smartphone generated 24 times more mobile data traffic (79 MB per month) than a basic cell phone (3.3 MB per month). Wireless resources become even more strained when you consider that the average tablet generates 405MB of mobile data traffic per month, which is over five times that of a smartphone, or 122 times that of an average cell phone. With this type of traffic on wireless networks, it is clear why wireless companies would want to limit data use.

While Verizon and AT&T have eliminated unlimited data plans, T-mobile has placed caps on the amount of high speed data that a customer can use in a month. While technically still unlimited, T-mobile will throttle a users data speed after reaching thresholds of 200MB, 2GB, 5GB or 10GB depending on the user’s wireless plan. Limiting data speeds is nothing new; Verizon actually began periodically using this tactic earlier in the year for it’s highest users. This leaves Sprint as the only major wireless carrier to offer truly unlimited data plans and some speculate that this could give sprint an advantage. Sprint is currently using this advantage as a selling point, but will need to continue enhancing its network if it intends to maintain this advantage. Considering current data trends and rumors of a Sprint iPhone, this may be a tall order.

Even though Verizon has eliminated unlimited data plans, this press release outlines ways that new Verizon customers can track their data use.  In particular, the data calculator is useful if you’re shopping for a new mobile phone plan. These tools can estimate your monthly data needs based on how you use your smartphone. Knowing how much data you need will allow you to choose the most appropriate plan. Don’t forget to use the CUBconnects website too!

Here are links to data calculators provided by the major wireless providers (not sprint of course!).

If you’re already in a tiered or capped data plan, there are still some actions you can take to limit data use and avoid overage charges. One easy step is to utilize Wi-Fi hot spots. Data sent over a Wi-Fi connection won’t count towards data caps. Another way to limit data use is to limit the amount of video or music you download or stream to your phone. These are data intensive activities, which can quickly eat into a monthly data cap. If these methods don’t suit your taste or are not enough to stay within a monthly limit, then examine which apps you are using and their settings. This article from CNET has recommendations for apps that can help you monitor data use, compress incoming data, and which twitter apps use data more efficiently.

According to a study by Nielsen, the average smartphone user in the United States used 435MB per month during the first quarter of 2011. This is less than a quarter of the 2GB cap provided by many wireless plans, but this number has increased by 89% since the first quarter of 2010. The study also shows that data use is increasing even faster when looking at the top 10% and top 1% of data consumers. The growth of smartphone data use in the U.S. may be slightly lower than the global numbers, but are still very significant. You may not be facing any data issues now, but it will definitely be important for the future. Keeps these data resources in mind when purchasing your next smartphone or data plan and remember to keep using

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