With always-connected, pocket-sized computers at our constant disposal, it's hard not to use them each and every time we get a spare moment. Hop on Twitter and tell your friends what you had for lunch, check your Google Reader, Facebook, movie times … you get the point. And there are millions of us who do this constantly, day in and day out.

Up until the middle of 2010, all of the major national carriers offered somewhat affordable, unlimited data plans for individuals and families. You could browse the Internet and consumer as much data as you could possibly manage each billing cycle without the worry of exceeding your monthly limit. There were no limits.

Over the past four years, data usage has overtaken voice calling, and its taking its toll on wireless networks – which were not meant or built to withstand such constant, high levels of traffic. This has put US carriers in a bind. Their wireless (3G) networks are on the fritz and providers are in a scramble to salvage what they can. The solution? The next generation in wireless technology, 4G.

Long Term Evolution (LTE) is the 4G technology of choice for both Verizon and AT&T, and T-Mobile and Sprint both plan to make an LTE transition further down the road. But as transitions from one wireless technology go, this is a slow-moving process. Carriers have to build out the new network gradually, despite a spectrum crisis. They must also release phones compatible with new technology and, of course, backwards compatible with the existing network. To prevent their existing 3G networks from totally failing, these operators need a more direct and instantaneous approach: tiered data.

To the dismay of all the wireless enthused, AT&T was the first carrier to introduce tiered data back in June of 2010. It was only a matter of time before other carriers took their seat on the bandwagon. T-Mobile and Verizon followed in Ol' Blue's footsteps, leaving Sprint as the only national carrier offering a truly unlimited data plan.

Like I explained, tiered data was introduced to slow traffic and relieve wireless networks of some of the stress. Many developers and content providers like Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB Advanced Media, are concerned that data caps threaten and cripple the potential of their services. Marguerite Reardon of CNET quotes Bowman:

They're trying to get their best customers to never use data,” and, “I just can't see how this would be good for anyone in the business distributing rich media.”

Although rich media distributors may be worried about the success of their endeavors, it appears that these providers have little to worry about. Instead of data usage going down due to the data caps, it has actually increased … a lot. In her article, Reardon details a study done by Validas, a firm that analyzes wireless bills for consumers. The Validas study reveals some interesting information on how little tiered data has affected smartphone data usage.

Smartphone Data Usage

The average Verizon customer used 206.6MB of data during the second half of 2010. During the first half of 2011, however, that number rose a whopping 150 percent to 512.4MB. (Remember, Verizon did not implement tiered data until last month. Valida's study does not include tiered data on Verizon.) Likewise, Sprint customers' average data usage rose 69 percent and AT&T customers are using 116 percent more data in 2011. T-Mobile, on the other hand, was the only one to experience a decline in data usage – down 2 percent.

Seeing this increase of data usage by AT&T customers is rather surprising. It's easy to make the assumption that data caps would force users to use less data overall, simply for the fear of overages. So why is data usage going up? My best guess is dependency. We're gradually surpassing the luxury phase of smartphone data and entering the days where being always-connected is almost a necessity. It is also possible that these users had the larger 2GB plan to begin with and simply were not using it to its fullest potential.

What's more interesting than average data going up, however, is the fact that T-Mobile customers are using less data on average, when exceeding your data allotment only means your speeds will be throttled – save for the 200MB plan. Although I rarely use more than 100MB of data per month on my secondary, T-Mobile line, it's on a 5GB plan and I use it scarcely to avoid exceeding my limit. It's ridiculous, I know. But something about a data cap worries me, and this could possibly be the reason behind a decrease in T-Mo customer data usage. Then again, subscriber loss could also have something to do with it (more heavy users jumping to Sprint for truly unlimited data, etc.).

With tiered data having such a small effect – or not the desired effect – on customers, I'm sure the carriers have a trick or two up their sleeve. We know they don't like to compromise, so I'm not exactly eager to find out what the results of this study will ultimately mean.

Tell me, readers. Do you have a data cap? If so, what is the cap and how much data do you use per month?

Image via Buzzard Blog

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103 Reactions to this post

"How much data do you use each month?"

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Ryan Etzel
Ryan Etzel 4GB's each month on a unlimited data plan :) on verizon droidX (:
SDiann Campbell
SDiann Campbell TOOO MUCH!!
Curtis VanSelus
Curtis VanSelus I have to stay below 2gb or slows to crap....so I WiFi when I'm home.
William Robles
William Robles Idk alot
Nick Reyes
Nick Reyes ~2g
Angel Miguel Peguero
Angel Miguel Peguero I have unlimited don't know
Jill Godfrey
Jill Godfrey A WHOLE LOT !
Ruben Jaramillo
Ruben Jaramillo At least 1.21 jigawatts lol
Mark Archibold
Mark Archibold I dont know that's why I love Sprint. I try to test the limits of unlimited.
Christian Sotelo
Christian Sotelo I used 20GB on my T-Mobile and I still have fast internet
Andrew William Sheldon
Andrew William Sheldon Ive used a gb of data in 6 days no.idea. how :\
Orlando Gonzalez
Orlando Gonzalez Don't think I have ever gone over 2g in a months time.
Patrick DeCastro
Patrick DeCastro @Stephen - I agree 20Gb om your phone may seem excessive, but who decided 5Gb = unlimited use? B4 Vz took away my hotspot (formerly free up to 5Gb for webOS), I used <1Gb every couple of months b/c it was too slow. Otherwise, I use 1-2Gb/wk to download podcasts to listen to at work. I am not close enough to wifi during work hrs. Besides, if you've got money to burn to pay $30/mo just to check email, good for you. Many of us use the service as it was presented to us. Unlimited = unlimited. That is all.
Cory David Baxter
Cory David Baxter But I'll say between background sync and downloads plus surfing I average atleast 2g a day
Cory David Baxter
Cory David Baxter Did my math wrong on my earlier comment seems like I left out the other 2400 dollars I paid Verizon every year a total of 3600 a year that's a lot just to access information and talk limitless
Jordan Crawford
Jordan Crawford I have a 4gb data plan since at&t doesn't have unlimited data no more. I lost some respect for them taking that off
Equaknox Knox
Equaknox Knox on>>Sprint...shit...i culd probley have my own cell network...i wils say...2gb to 5gb..
Cory David Baxter
Cory David Baxter So much I had to leave big red and get virgin mobile I was paying Verizon 1200 dollars a year just for mobile now I save 100 dollars a month with virgin mobile
David Jeremy Flores
David Jeremy Flores 1-1.5GB
Jim Meade
Jim Meade I use 5GB to 7GB on the Big Red 5GB unlim plan....
Mike Mota
Mike Mota Some of you have too much time on your hands if you are using that much data. Get off your phones for a bit, and appreciate the important things in life.
Tristen Hogue
Tristen Hogue About 2.4 g a month
Aldo Gallinar
Aldo Gallinar Alot. Like about 4GB only on the phone and If i tether it to my computer it's like 15GB. Lol.
Orly Maravilla
Orly Maravilla $10 bucks unlimited on a smart plan beat that....lol work the system there always loop hoes..
Brent Legendre
Brent Legendre 2-3 kb
Shamarien Harris
Shamarien Harris Unlimited! People #Like)This!
Oscar Phillips
Oscar Phillips Yeah I use a ton with hotspot
Liam Mallon
Liam Mallon 7GB, unlimited.
Harry Whitehurst
Harry Whitehurst Less than a gig because im on wifi alot, without wifi.. Like 15 gigs lmao
Ebony Rutherford
Ebony Rutherford Oh and I have 4G.
Ebony Rutherford
Ebony Rutherford About 36GB with phone and hot spot. Thank goodness for grandfathered unlimited. Love my torrents.
Tim Smith
Tim Smith Would probably be pretty high if I didn't use WIFI every day at work and at home and if I'm somewhere else that has it I use it. So I'm typically under 200mb. I'd be doing a few GB's though otherwise.
Leo Sjöberg
Leo Sjöberg About 3gb on 3G pretty little considering its tethered to My iPod 24/7
Mustafa Sidiqee
Mustafa Sidiqee 10gb
Kaleb Klee
Kaleb Klee About 10-15 gb, when I don't use my tethering.
Mendel N Helen Esteria
Mendel N Helen Esteria 10 gigs thank you sprint unlimited!
Dave Aké
Dave Aké About 3 gbs on 3g...on wifi way more...3g isn't fast enough
Prabhath Jay
Prabhath Jay mm.. less than 500MB
Gray Malkmus
Gray Malkmus More than 3gb
Joshua Broyles
Joshua Broyles 5gb on my 4g connection, not to sure on wifi
Enrique BigPapi Martinez
Enrique BigPapi Martinez 37gb tether my phone to everything in the house watch netflix play online with my ps3 and on my.laptop
Danu Carrión Perales
Danu Carrión Perales Minimum 3GB
Simon Zeng
Simon Zeng Over 9000
Mark Gittens
Mark Gittens Idk but I got an text from tmobile and stating that I used over 2gigs and that my speed will be slowed down until my next cycle. Sprint was right!!
Taylor Goulet
Taylor Goulet Last month I used 3.87 gigs!! Hahah
Kenneth Hamlin
Kenneth Hamlin I use my hotspot a lot for work to rdp and.listen to music so like 10gb
Renee Hurne
Renee Hurne Before Netflix, 3-5 GB/mo., using Netflix 5-9 GB/mo. on 3G.
David Hansen
David Hansen I average 5.5 GB per month without tether. AT&T unlmited data.
Ozker Mgl
Ozker Mgl 12GB
Cary Mompoint Jr
Cary Mompoint Jr I average between 2.5GB and 3.5GB, depending on how bored I am at work, will determine if I use Netflix/HBOGo/HuluPlus.
Frank Porter
Frank Porter I have no idea as I still have my unlimited data plan with AT&T, so I honestly don't worry about it. Ha ha
Stephen Norton
Stephen Norton @ Brandon, even with Netflix I use way under that. Tethering is kind of understandable. But the problem is people try to use it as their main source of web. That's not what its meant for.
Joseph W Rodgers
Joseph W Rodgers 2 or 3gb. If I'm in a 4G area with my thunderbolt I can easily use 5 or 6gb.
Eddie Velasquez
Eddie Velasquez 25gb
Katherine Rich
Katherine Rich 10-15GB on VZW unlimited plan. I watch a lot of Netflix and hulu+.
Thomas Glenn Owens
Thomas Glenn Owens iPhone 4 AT&T - I used 4 gigs and went overage 11 gigs and that was last month with out using Netflix or YouTube or downloading apps just web, email, and pics
Hosea Carter
Hosea Carter Idk funny thing is vrz charge by giggs but put on ur bill kb's why do I have to the math lol I think its a hustle
Brian Edson
Brian Edson One issue that I've seen come up with capped data plans is for people who stream music from Pandora and stuff like that? They warn when you download the app to be extremely careful if you don't have unlimited data
Joel Satokangas
Joel Satokangas 1-2g
Paul Fabrie
Paul Fabrie First month with my LG Revolution on Big Red and I have used about 25 Gb.Thank God for my unlimited 4g plan :)
Bart Wadowski
Bart Wadowski I read that when AT&T enforces their data throttling, everybody who uses 10GB+ a month on Unlimited plans will be affected.
Donna Jay Ochoa
Donna Jay Ochoa 2gb.
Marti Ruiz
Marti Ruiz About 20 gb i always pass over 5gb in 8 day with tmobile now is slow.
Jose Hernandez
Jose Hernandez Infinity.
John Scott Mattern
John Scott Mattern 1-2gb
Douglas Prevo
Douglas Prevo gig... about. I'm in wifi a hell of a lot apparently.
Steve Turner
Steve Turner 5gb
Bryce Carlson
Bryce Carlson 0 because its always to damn expensive so I use wifi always on my sensation :/
Diego Akd Aranda
Diego Akd Aranda like 10 gb
Dan Rodriguez
Dan Rodriguez But I'm almost always on wifi...so I'd say I use about......100-200mb....i have netflix on my phone and I use that a lot so I know it would be way more without wifi
Paul Martin
Paul Martin When I was with Sprint, 12 Gb a month...now back with At&t and only use a few hundred megs. Who cares how fast everyones network is if you can't use a decent amount of data!?
Victor Perez
Victor Perez like 4gb but i use wifi
Dan Rodriguez
Dan Rodriguez I don't want a limit...i want actual unlimited data
Matthew Gonzales Landry
Matthew Gonzales Landry 200-400mb/month
Nicholas Campbell
Nicholas Campbell Wifi mostly, but I still rack up over 2 gb monthly. My worst month was closer to 5.
Brian Rodriguez
Brian Rodriguez 100 tbys
Tyrone DoWork Thomas
Tyrone DoWork Thomas since ive been using pandora i been getting over 5gb
Gregg Borden
Gregg Borden 5 and a half.. damn u Facebook..
Anthony Douglas
Anthony Douglas Sprint customers dont have to worry about being throttled or being charged overages c: c: c:
Anthony Douglas
Anthony Douglas 7-9g per cycle...thankfully was grandfathered into my unlimited data plan on vzw but that may change b/c they are douche bags like the jackass above Stephen. Netflix and mobile hotspot is the reason why. I dont feel its abuse. I pay $30 a month & will get every penny worth out of it.
Nicole Gunter
Nicole Gunter Use to have unlimited data but I bought a new phone and my iPhone plan was gone, now I manage with 4gb per month and that isn't enough
Francis Phimphivong
Francis Phimphivong I would use like 1 GB on my iPod. My mom still won't get me an iPhone. -.-
Kyle Wraij
Kyle Wraij 6/7 gb per month
Lorraine Pounds
Lorraine Pounds Unlimited with T Mobile, but 99% of the time I use my home wifi.
Jorge Rios
Jorge Rios Around 30GB on AT&T unlimited data plan... And before someone jumps into conclutions, I use netflix a lot on my samsung focus! : )
Christian Carlos Falu
Christian Carlos Falu 10+ GB Sprint FTW
Rene Rivas
Rene Rivas 2Gb..
Jonathan Carrillo
Jonathan Carrillo Ufffffffffffffffgf
Bill CoreRooted Priess
Bill CoreRooted Priess I hit 4.2 gb this past cycle. Without tether. Yeah, thanks Subsonic! :-)
Hector Lopez
Hector Lopez I don't think if we use more than 5 gb per month is abuse, because they sold smartphone. Who buy a smartphone for only make calls and send some sms. With a smartphone you can stream music with Pandora, TuneIn, videos and movies with YouTube, Netflix, July ect. Plus make video calls Facebook, twitter, browse ect
Morgan Hill
Morgan Hill Hardly any . I'm on WiFi most of the time.
Tom Chavira
Tom Chavira I would usually use well over 20 GB but since I got T-Mobile, i can manage okay with 5 GB.
Alvaro Rubalcava
Alvaro Rubalcava 7 to10gb
Christopher Wesley
Christopher Wesley Don't check. Unlimited data with Sprint.
Abram Wenevermet Dennis
Abram Wenevermet Dennis Less than 2gb on my ipad. And probably 200 mb on my evo3d from Sprint because the networks so slow i have 2 use WiFi 95% of the time..
Devin Michael Tinnin
Devin Michael Tinnin before I started to use my wifi, I was always on 3g and I have used 8gb before
Jake Zarobsky
Jake Zarobsky Average about 400 mb.. I thought I was a serial downloader, my mom only uses 100mb.
Matt Kerchner
Matt Kerchner 4GB without even tethering. And there's no limit. Thanks @Sprint
Eko Budi Prasetio
Eko Budi Prasetio 500 MB is enough for me...
Andre Christian
Andre Christian Around 2.5 gig
Ronald Johnson
Ronald Johnson I have no idea,
Ryan DeClue
Ryan DeClue Strangely enough, I ALWAYS seem to be around a wifi signal... So I use virtually no data.
Muzammil Syed
Muzammil Syed 4GB

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