It’s official: Verizon Wireless will be unveiling a new tiered pricing scheme for mobile data tomorrow. Luckily for anyone who signed up for an unlimited plan by today, the carrier will be honoring grandfathered plans. But if you weren’t one of the lucky ones, and know you’ll be signing up with Big Red in the future, it looks like your choices will be one of the following: $30 for 2GB of data, $50 for 5GB and $80 for 10GB, with a $10/75MB option for feature phone customers.
When it comes to foregoing unlimited data, Verizon is the latest to jump on board the bandwagon, with AT&T implementing DataPlus ($15/200MB) and DataPro ($25/2GB) plans last year. T-Mobile‘s Even More offerings ($10/200MB, $20/2GB, $30/5GB, and $60/10GB) don’t charge for overages, but they do throttle/slow down speeds that exceed the caps.
This trend toward tiered data is thrilling some users, while others find it downright upsetting. Some people are happy to see “data hogs” get reined in, though heavy users see this as yet another price-gouging tactic. But regardless of where you stand, it’s not hard to see where this is going — there’s a triumvirate of scenarios underway right now (of which this is part), and although they may seem unrelated, they form a strange and unsustainable situation:
- More carriers are adopting tiered data plans
- More services are going to the cloud
- More viruses and trojans are affecting mobiles (particularly Android, as well as jailbroken iOS devices)
Carriers have long urged users to use Wi-Fi whenever possible, even though mobile security threats are on the rise, and experts caution people about using open networks. Meanwhile, you’ve got cloud services like Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player and the upcoming iCloud services tempting people with anywhere access to streaming MP3s and other files.
We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. Just last month, Hulu released a mobile app for six Android phones, with more on the way. That’s in addition to bandwidth hogs like YouTube and Netflix. (Though the latter did unveil a new user-definable setting for streaming quality, to appease bandwidth concerns.) We haven’t even talked about tablets yet, and their larger data demands.
Get the picture? This sure looks like a recipe for users getting hammered — if not now, then certainly in the future, as more services and features enter the scene.
In the mean time, it might also be a recipe for success, at least if you’re Sprint. I can only imagine that America’s #3 carrier is thrilled (and possibly a little scared?) about this. It’s the only major carrier who’s still offering unlimited data, which is sure to attract a lot of heavy users to its network.
So if you didn’t snag a grandfathered unlimited plan from one of the carriers, and won’t (or can’t) sign on with Sprint, what can you do? Well, managing your usage is first and foremost, so let’s look at a few ways to minimize your individual data load.
- Download apps, games, music, podcasts on Wi-Fi only: Some apps are a negligible size. Others can come in at a whopping 1GB or more. And downloading a songs whenever you’re bored can really add up. Seriously, unless it’s an emergency, wait until you get home or on a trusted wireless network.
- Also save streaming for Wi-Fi too: Pandora, Slacker, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming services, as well as image-intensive resources like Flickr, can incur a lot of bandwidth on the go. (Plus, at least for vid services, 3G quality doesn’t tend to be very good anyway, so save them for when you have broadband internet access. You’ll get to enjoy crisper clearer visuals.)
- Check your email accounts and set them for manual download, and then sync them in batches whenever you have broadband connection. If you get tons of emails that can’t wait for periodic downloads, then check and see if your smartphone gives you the option to download messages without images or attachments. Many of them do.
- Turn off push notifications whenever you can and/or limit your background data capabilities across your apps, if possible.
- Watch for applications that use location data in the background. Unless it’s necessary, turn it off.
- Try an alternate web browser: If you’re on a later Android device, you can actually set your browser to block pop-up windows and turn off image loading. Options like this don’t exist in Safari, so if you’re an iOS user, consider getting an alternate browser like Opera Mini or Skyfire, which can minimize the amount of web data you’re using, or Offline Pages, to download webpages (presumably when you’re on Wi-Fi) for viewing later.
- Use mobile-friendly sites when possible: Not a lot of people people prefer mobile-optimized sites, but they exist for a reason. They strip out stuff like animated ads and unnecessary or large images, meaning they take less bandwidth to load.
- Turn off cellular data when you don’t need it. This is different from Airplane mode, which shuts down everything. By turning off cellular data, you can still get calls and texts, but without the risk of an app secretly connecting while you’re unaware (or you accidentally going over your limit).
If all this seems like a bit much, that’s because it is. (No one ever said being budget-conscious was easy.) But I recommend trying these in turn, and sticking to a few that make the biggest difference to your individual usage.
Speaking of usage, there are also apps that can make easier work of managing that. For example, Onavo provides “a service that makes mobile data consumption efficient, transparent and manageable.” The app compresses the iPhone’s data usage in the background (from all apps), presumably letting users get more out of their data plans. Onavo also displays data usage breakdowns by application, so users can see which ones are costing them the most. For instance, according to this statistic from the company, the official Twitter client consumes more than double the data compared to Tweetdeck, which is the most efficient app.
It’s iOS-only for now (and sadly, it’s not compatible for the Verizon network — yet), but there’s an Android beta underway, so the Market will likely see it some time soon.
The App Store also offers Data Usage, a real-time data monitoring app for end users that periodically runs in the background, shows usage as a badge and sends off alerts when the user exceeds a specified usage amount.
How are you getting a handle on data usage? Do you have any other tips to add to the mix? Be sure to share your advice in the comments below.