Understand data usage to avoid cellular data caps

Understand data usage to avoid cellular data caps

A while back, we posted an article on how to take advantage of Wi-Fi to avoid your cellular data caps. More and more cell providers are offering unlimited data plans, but it’s still important to know how much data you are using, and where it is being spent.

Whether you’re at home on your own network, at a local coffee shop, or “borrowing” your neighbor’s Wi-Fi, it’s a good habit to get into to know how much data you are using. This knowledge is a great ally towards avoiding cellular data caps, but it’s also just a good idea to know how much of anything you are consuming. It just makes sense.

It’s also a good time for electronics. America’s de facto Birthday, aka the 4th of July, has passed, meaning deals on new gadgets are everywhere. You see them in the newspapers, on your favorite shopping website, and all over your inbox.

If you’re in the market for a great deal on some hot new mobile or tablet thing—now might be a time to buy.

If this new device is on a data plan, you might want to resist the urge to be downloading tons and tons of data if you’re on a plan that has a limit. Data caps can be brutal if you breach them. All of a sudden, that summer vacation money is going to pay off that cell carrier debt. That’s no fun.

First off, a quick data primer

Internet service and cellular carriers all provide us with access to the Internet at a particular speed. This connection is sending data back and forth, commonly known as downloading and uploading.

data transfer illustrationWhen you shop for an Internet or data plan, you’ll see data measured in bits.

When you shop for a storage device, you’ll see data measured in bytes.

I won’t bore you with too many details, but the general rule of thumb is that if you want to know how much you’re downloading with your current data plan (which is typically per second), just divide the bits (speed) by 8 to get the bytes (stuff).

Example: If you have the Stephouse Networks 1Mbps (one megabit per second, or 1024 kilobits per second) plan for example, you’re roughly downloading 128kb (kilobytes) of data per second.

Some quick references for byte budgeting

Understanding how much data you’re using when you do what you do on the web can really help you avoid cellular data caps and overages on your cellular bill. It can also help you better understand the data usage in general on smartphones.

There’s an easy answer to this: Use your high-speed Internet service provider and connect to Wi-Fi on a smartphone. Depending on your ISP, you most likely have much more freedom to surf the web and do what you love without being bound to being below the data cap.

If the cellular data plan is your Internet access of choice, here are some quick principles and references to keep in mind.

Web Browsing & Email: These seem like innocuous things since we do them all of the time on our computers using our high-speed internet services, but they can really add up on a mobile devices depending on what you’re doing.

Simple text searches and loading basic webpages can be very light tasks, depending on what you search and what your visit. However, searching for images and loading them on your favorite device can add up the bytes over a session.

This is the same for email. If you email me a quick message about your 4th of July barbecue, that’s a tiny amount of data. Why didn’t you just text me instead?

If you scour the web for content, download, and email me high-res photos of the awesome grill you’re thinking about purchasing and its PDF cookbook, then you’re going to send a lot of data through your device.

Streaming Music: If the cloud is your favorite source of music, but you’re on a limited data plan on your mobile device, you should be a little more aware of how much data streaming music can potentially use.

Pandora prefers that your connection speed be at least 150kbps. Using our rule of thumb and a super-hypothetical situation for fun, we’re looking at about 18.75 kilobytes of data transfer per second.

Let’s say it’s a 3 ½ minute song. That’s going to be 3937.5 kilobytes, or 3.8 megabytes (MB).

If you’re on a 30MB data plan, that’s more than a 10th of your budget right there!

Streaming Video: If you enjoy watching DVD-quality content from Netflix, you’re roughly transfering data at a speed of at least 3Mbps according to their website.

3Mbps is 3072kbps. 3072 / 8 = 384 kilobytes of data streaming per second.

Disclaimer: Super-hypothetical conditions apply once again. Your mileage may vary.

Your 20-minute episode could be 460,800 kilobytes, or 450 megabytes. Now you can see why seasons of your favorite shows span multiple DVDs. These files are large!

450 megabytes is not a problem on a home or business high-speed internet service account without a data cap. It’s troublesome though if you’re on that 30MB data plan. You’re way past your cap!

That was a lot of numbers, but I hope you get my point.

Avoid the caps

The Internet is a fun thing, but it takes a lot of sending and receiving of data to make it so. If you’re on a data plan that’s limiting, being aware of how much data your favorite services use can help you avoid cellular data caps.

Hopefully this helps inform you on about how much data we can use on a daily basis. Hopefully it also helps you avoid nasty overage charges.

If it helps, all of Stephouse’s high-speed Internet plans have no data caps. We’re also a local Northwest service.

Numbers aside, the easiest way to avoid the cellular data caps is to just hop onto a Wi-Fi network. Being the mobile, social creatures that we are, I know that can be hard being stuck inside on a nice day (like home, inside a café, or at work).

Besides, it’s July. Summer’s officially here.

Why are we sitting here talking about the Internet and data plans? Let the barbecuing commence!

Image courtesy Randomenthusiam.com
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