Making sense of data

A friend of mine is mad at the wireless carriers. She thinks they are after her unlimited data plan. “I have had unlimited data since 2007,” she said to me indignantly “and no ‘share this or share that’ plan is going to take it away from me!” I let her calm down for a few minutes and then asked her the obvious question: How much data does she actually use each month? Of course I knew the answer before I asked the question: she had no idea.

Here’s the story I tell most of my unlimited data friends: I am one of the heaviest smartphone users I know. I stream movies, I stream music, I upload photos, I am on e-mail all day long, and I have more apps than I know what to do with. Now, not all this activity takes place on a cellular network. Whenever I’m at home and I’m going to watch a movie or listen to music, I switch to our home network. Similarly, if I’m travelling and I can find secure Wi-Fi, I use someone else’s data allowance not mine.

But this careful approach to cellular data use is offset by constant use of my smartphone’s hotspot. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t fire up the Internet sharing feature on my Nokia Lumia for my laptop, Surface tablet or another Wi-Fi-enabled device.

So how much data do I use on my cellular network? Barely 1.6GB over the last 30 days. (That’s courtesy of Data Sense, a great Nokia Lumia feature which I will come back to later.)

Now, if I use only 1.6GB per month, my friend must barely reach 1GB. She never watches movies on her smartphone, has given up Facebook for Lent, and hasn’t downloaded more than a handful of apps in her entire life. But her jealous guardianship of her unlimited data package continues.

Of course, numerous consumers are giving up their unlimited data, as they switch to the latest smartphones and are required to abandon their old contracts. But despite some initial irritation, I rarely hear any long-term complaints, particularly from moms of bigger families who love the savings that can come from a Share Everything plan.

If you have concerns about how much data your family will consume, check out Verizon’s data calculator. It will help you estimate data usage across all your devices and tell you which activities are responsible for the highest consumption. Verizon customers can also set up notifications, so you always know where you are in your monthly data cycle. And you can always adjust your plan if you see that you’re going to go over.

Which brings me back to Data Sense, the data-monitoring app on my Nokia Lumia 822. Not only does it tell me how much data I have consumed in the last 30 days, but it also tells me which activities have used up the most. For me, e-mail use is always #1, followed by Internet sharing (hotspot use), and streaming media.

Switch to a Share Everything plan and activate those monitoring tools – and you will forget that there was ever such a thing as unlimited data!

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