How Much Mobile Data Do You Actually Use?

It’s human nature to worship the power of unlimited choice.  Take food. Even though our bodies are designed to digest a single meal at a time (and a finite number of calories) we go crazy for all-you-can eat buffets. Hence the undying popularity of high-end hotel buffets in Metro Manila like Shangri-La’s “Circles” and Sofitel’s “Spiral” and even mall-based restaurants like Dad’s in Megamall and Yakimix at the Podium.

Never mind if buffets are much more expensive than a single meal. The notion of having unlimited choice makes the buffet a “good deal” – although what it really makes us do is consume more than what we normally eat. Hence the expanding waistline of the modern urbanite.

It’s the same with mobile data. Given the choice between 250MB of data or an unlimited data plan, our buffet mentality always kicks in. We want unlimited! It might be more expensive, pero mas sulit! Because you never know when you might want 252 MB instead of 250.

Mobile data plans available in the Philippines now give us the power of choice. Do you want unlimited data? If so, the typical unlimited data packages for prepaid and postpaid mobile subs on an operator like SMART are P50/day, P300/week, P1,200/month. That is all you can eat, without data caps.

Nowadays, there are volume data plans as well. These allow you to purchase fixed quantities of data, which are valid for 24 hours (for low end plans) to a month. The idea here is that you only buy the data you need to use. Your data plan is capped – there is an upper limit. If you exceed the data cap on your plan, you are charged for data at pay-as-you-go rates. The advantage though is that by getting a volume data plan, you end up paying much less than an unlimited data plan, while managing to stay connected.

SMART introduced this idea through its ALWAYS ON volume data plans. I hear that Globe eventually followed suit. Here is the rate table for ALWAYS ON.

In the US they call these “tiered data plans”. In fact most US carriers have pretty much eliminated unlimited data plans. T-Mobile’s “Unlimited”  data plan actually has a cap of 2 GB. Which as this article will show, is practically “unlimited” anyway because the average user will not exceed 2 GB.

How much data will a mobile data user actually use? Of course this varies from one user to another. Some are naturally thrifty, sipping data while checking social networks or email. Others are natural born data hogs, streaming YouTube and tethering their phones to their laptops while they download Blu-Ray rips.

In an effort to determine how much mobile data I would actually need to buy if I shifted from an unlimited data plan to a volume data plan, I performed a little experiment.

The rules of the experiment: Buy a volume data plan and continue to use mobile data normally, as if I was on unlimited. The basic rule was act normally and “DON’T MAKE TIPID”. If I felt like streaming YouTube videos, I would. If I felt like tethering to a tablet or laptop, I would.

All the while I would continuously monitor my data usage through SMS or through a data monitoring app.

On SMART’s prepaid SIM’s you can get a quick running balance of data consumed via SMS by texting the command BAL and sending this to 2200.

I also used an Android app called 3G Watchdog to monitor my mobile internet consumption on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Both SMS monitoring and 3G watchdog only monitored mobile internet usage. If my phone connected to Wi-Fi they would automatically stop monitoring.

So how did I do?

I started the 30 day experiment by purchasing a 2 GB Always On package for P995 (still cheaper than a P1200/month unlimited plan).

Using an android phone, I set all my notifications on. Apps used were push e-mail (two accounts synced to mail servers, one personal Gmail account, and a work email account on Exchange), social media apps (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Foursquare), some news apps (NPR, CNN, BBC), some apps downloading, some web browsing, some YouTube streaming, and some Wi-Fi tethering to my laptop through Android’s personal hotspot option. I thought I was a natural data hog and this would add up to quite a bit.

All the while I monitored my consumption. Initially I was a miser, using only 10 MB of data a day. But then I opened up and started to use more.

By the end of month, I had 1,520 MB free out of my 2 GB allocation. I used only 480 MB!

This means that if I was serious about saving money, I only need to pay P500/month for data, which would be worth 500 MB.

However, my “what if I need more data?” mentality got a hold of me and so when it came time to buy a new monthly data plan, I decided to “super-size” and buy 1 GB of data “just in case” for P750.

But I could find some smug satisfaction in knowing that I saved P450 by getting a volume plan instead of a P1,200 unlimited plan.

Now I’m a heavy user. When I shared my experience on Google+, my friends turned out to be much thriftier and I felt like such a glutton.

+Jerome Gotangco wrote: “500GB? What are you guys downloading, BD images? 😀 Just ended my experiment today – only used 180MB from the 250MB allocated for 30 day.”

+Ret Casala wrote: “I still got 160 MB (out of the alloted 300MB) left until the 7th. Apps: Google services, browsing and watching the arrow on map while in transit hehe”

+Rodge Bucao wrote: “Since I did most of my mobile net on Opera Mini, mine’s a heart-stopping 39 MB.”

+Abbie Real wrote:  “I used the volume data plan for the iPad. I consumed 300mb only including some app update/purchase, work e-mails, instagram, twitter, G+, some FB.”

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