One of the most important features of a smartphone, at least in my world, is the ability to connect to WiFi networks. It might seem silly that it’s considered “important” to be able to connect to these outside networks given how much we spend to be connected to our cellular network, but this past week I realized just how important WiFi really is when it comes to my data usage.
I never considered myself a “power user”, especially after having kids. Although I use my phone frequently, I simply don’t have time to be using it all day for stuff. For this reason, along with the fact that I do spend a good portion of my time around WiFi networks, I didn’t think I, an “average user”, had much of a need for an unlimited data plan.
I was so wrong.
I’ve been with three different carriers over the past four years, each with varying data plans and speeds. I had unlimited data with Sprint, but I was using 3G data on my iPhone 4S, and a couple of times used 4G phones as well. I never had to worry about overages, no, but I also didn’t think the speeds were that great and only used it when I had to. When I switched to Verizon and experienced super speedy LTE, I had a 2GB plan cap. I only used it when I had to. Now I use AT&T and have a 15GB plan with two other people, and until this past week I had always been cautious of my data usage here, too. Then I realized, I’m paying for what I considered to be a good chunk of data. I should probably use it.
So I went a week without WiFi, and at the 7-day mark I was informed that my data usage was already at 4.4GB with 21 days left in the cycle.
Great googly moogly.
So one might ask, what exactly did I do during that week to get to 4.4GB so quickly? A myriad of little things collectively, but the heaviest hitters were undoubtedly Netflix, Spotify, Reddit, and blogs, none of which I used exceedingly. Or what I thought was exceedingly. As it turns out, one to two hours of Netflix – even on standard streaming rather than HD – still eats up about 1GB of data per hour according to the Netflix website. 3GB per hour is expected for HD streaming.
So out of the 720 hours it takes to make up 30 days, I can use approximately 5 of those for streaming standard video on my phone, and that’s without using anything else. You can effectively forget about that Friends binge you were hoping to go on.
As for Spotify, I’ve learned that it’s best to just download the playlists while connected to WiFi for convenient “Offline” listening mode, but even that’s only available for premium users – an extra $9.99 a month. (It’s worth noting that T-Mobile offers music streaming for free, which is a pretty sweet deal if you get good T-Mobile coverage.) For Reddit and blogs, I guess I’d better stick to reading those on my computer rather than on my phone.
When a moderate user can use almost 5GB of data within a week just by casually streaming video – a huge perk of having a smartphone in the first place – the temptation to switch to something unlimited, simply for the security factor, is huge. I read Verizon’s recent-ish blog post about how nobody needs, or even wants, unlimited data. I can’t say that I, nor my smartphone (which needs to be connected to WiFi for the remainder of my month), necessarily agree with that statement.
It all comes down to a game of “Pick Your Poison”. Between comparatively sluggish data with no limits and blazing fast LTE data with a cap, while neither option is optimal, I’d honestly much rather have the stress of slow loading times over the looming doom cloud of overage fees. The only "blazing fast" I really noticed here was how blazing fast it took for me to use the entirety of my data allotment for the month. I was not impressed.