How much data do you actually use?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| Published: August 30, 2013

There's no arguing that data plans have gone from something we could easily deal without to one of the most important decisions we make when choosing our phone plan. From having the barest of barebones web access on flip and messaging phones to having data that's sometimes even faster than our own web connection at home, some would even argue that the amount of data they sign up for is even more important than the amount of minutes allotted. Several plans and carriers reflect that importance, but when it all comes down to it, just how much data do we really use on our smartphones?

I have always been a big fan of the unlimited data plans from Sprint. I've been spoiled with it for so long that I was pretty much afraid to give it up in order to get anything else. Even when all I had was my rinky dink (but trusty) Katana II, I had unlimited data. For what? It's a flip phone. Back then, you definitely weren't going to surprass 1 or 2GB of data. You were lucky if you used a hundred megabytes. Regardless, I didn't have to worry about ever running out. Whenever I desperately needed to check the weather or Facebook, I would never be told that I couldn't do so because I didn't have any more data left to use that month. It was a comforting feeling, but of course I didn't really need that much data at the time.

Even when I got a device that was a little more powerful like the Samsung Instinct or a Windows Mobile device I wasn't really using that much data. I had a faster browser, but still only using maybe 300-500MB a month. I did a lot of browsing, but not a lot down or uploading.

The real data using comes in when smartphones come in to play, because these are the first phones that really do any major download/upload work. Applications, social networks, better cameras, mobile gaming, faster e-mail and easier file sharing, among other things, are true data hogs as our smartphones have practically become handheld personal computers in our pockets. When I first realized what all my smartphone could do, I was positive that the useless "unlimited" amount of data I was allotted each month would finally come in handy. As it turns out, other features in smartphones proved me wrong.

One of the more awesome, yet underappreciated features of a smartphone (mostly because it's a standard feature now) is WiFi connectivity. Although this is was mostly used for people who didn't have unlimited data plans, in certain areas I have found that WiFi is actually faster than the data I'm using from my carrier anyway. Not only that, but it's even been discovered that using WiFi data as opposed to carrier data can actually save battery life, so that's an added bonus. I'm generally always around WiFi hotspots, except during commute times, and I've found that because I'm usually connected to WiFi I'm hardly even making a dent in that unlimited data that I love so much.

To be exact, I've only been in my current billing cycle for half a month and I've only used 105MB of data. The only time I can really think of using much data from Sprint is by streaming Spotify or using GPS when I'm driving, or the couple of times I've had to search for one thing or another while out and about. Other than that, I'm usually connected to WiFi and doing all of my downloading at home. I really have no use for an unlimited data plan.

But there are still reasons to have larger data plans, particularly if you don't have a designated home Internet connection. In fact, a lot of people prefer to use their phones as their main internet connection, especially if they're getting a good 4G signal. And why not? Along with smartphones having WiFi connections, you also have the addition of WiFi tethering, which turns your phone into a hotspot. For people that only need an internet connection just to browse the web or complete some schoolwork, or even just catching up on some shows with Netflix, it would probably be a better option to go with WiFi tethering over paying for two different sources of Internet for such minimal work. Some carriers, like Verizon Wireless, don't charge you to use WiFi tethering from your smartphone. However there are others, like Sprint, that do. Either way, depending on which platform you're using there's probably a way around it through alternative applications.

Although manufacturers are coming out with some major powerhouses for phones, the average smartphone user likely won't exceed more than a few GB per month with minimal usage, even without WiFi. By observing the trends in how much data you really use, you may even be able to lower your bill by evaluating just how much data you're using every month.

Images via Business Insider, Green Book Blog