Smartphones are fixtures in our daily lives, and we depend on large amounts of cell phone data usage to enrich our existence. Everything seems fine and dandy, until we get a text message advising us that we’re perilously close to our data limit.
Especially if you’re on a shared plan, hitting your cap can be an unpleasant conversation to broach with your parents or your significant other. Then it’s time to live on Wi-Fi or face the wrath of the others on your plan.
The good news is that the era of outrageous data overage charges is largely over. Instead, cell phone companies typically throttle your data after you’ve passed your monthly limit. The bad news is that finding a data package that suits your needs, especially if you’re on a shared plan, is maddeningly complicated.
Unlimited? Yeah Right!
Unlimited plans are pretty much an endangered species in today’s world. True unlimited data went the way of the dinosaur since cell phone companies began throttling heavy users. These users, which routinely used dozens of gigabytes of data, were causing network congestion.
In order to reel them in, companies have resorted to extraordinary measures, including booting the heaviest data users off of their grandfathered-in plans.
Luckily, most of us aren’t data junkies of this magnitude, and merely need a couple of gigs to get by. But all our data needs are growing yearly, and everyone’s data usage is projected to go way, way up.
A recent study by Ericsson projects that the average smartphone will eat up four gigabytes of traffic by 2019, while other projections we found were much higher. Either way, your current data plan is probably woefully inadequate for your future data needs.
Mobile data is a battlefield
Our mobile habits are eating so much data that cell phone providers are having trouble keeping up with demand growth. While there are some promising technologies that will likely alleviate these growing demands, there are some serious regulatory battles that will be played out in Washington that will determine the future of mobile data.
Look for some protracted wars between consumer advocates, cellular giants, and cable companies, who want their own profitable piece of the burgeoning mobile data industry.
What about right now?
According to NerdWallet, if you use more than six gigabytes, you should take a serious look at unlimited data plans (which aren’t truly unlimited, but whatever). The data-without-limits life is pretty pricey, and will set you back north of $75-a-month, not including your voice plan, your cell phone, and relevant taxes and fees.
For the more middle-of-the-road user, two gigabytes of data is more or less the same price across all carriers ($50-$55). Sprint and T-Mobile give you more data, but it’s clearly quantity over quality–the service isn’t as good as their competitors. The average wireless customer consumes 1.8 gigs of data monthly, which makes these plans a good fit for most of us.
Shared plans are a much more complicated ball of wax. If you’re interested in what plan suits you best, PC Mag has a great Wireless Savings Calculator that can help you reach an optimal solution
Don’t get too comfortable with your current plan, because it won’t be sufficient for your future data needs. Cell phone networks will need billions of dollars in modernization to accommodate our growing mobile data consumption, and it’s near certain that those costs will be passed on to us. In sum, your cell phone plan will probably get more expensive in coming years.
In the meantime, try to connect to Wi-Fi when you can. It will save you a bundle in the long run.
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