What is using my mobile data?

This post is the second in our series of Telecom Tip Tuesdays, where we address some common questions from our clients and provide some general information to help navigate the complicated world of business telecommunications.

Why do I have data overage charges on my cell phone bill? 

Which apps are using all of my cellular data? 

How do I manage my mobile data usage?

Smartphones have become more and more indispensable as a tool for businesses and nonprofits and they are being used at all levels of the organization, so these are questions that we hear a lot.  In addition, most mobile carriers have moved to a data-centric model of billing, where customers are billed for an allowance of shared data while they get unlimited voice calling and text messaging.  This means that going over your mobile data allowance is going to result in overage charges and managing your mobile data usage has become a way to manage your costs.

Opticom has been doing telephone bill audits and Mobile Device Management for 12 years and we have a lot of experience monitoring our clients’ data usage.  However, we did a little research to back up our general findings.  A very good article on PC World (although it’s a bit dated, from 2012) gave a lot of great statistics on how much data different mobile apps will use.  There was also an interesting synopsis on USA Today.

However, the best way to calculate your own mobile data usage is to check the mobile data calculators available from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, or Sprint.  You can use these calculators to estimate your organization’s data usage based on how you use your smartphones, tables, and mobile hotspots.  Personally, we think the Verizon Wireless calculator gives the most detail.

So without further ado, here are the biggest users of your mobile data:

Streaming Video – Do you watch YouTube videos to pass the time on your commute?  Watching YouTube for just ten minutes a day can have you hitting 1GB in just three weeks.  Of course, high-definition videos use up double the amount of data that standard definition videos do.  But YouTube videos aren’t the biggest data hog – it turns out that Netflix streaming uses more. Data consumption on Netflix varies, because video quality adjusts constantly depending on your connection. However, in PC World’s tests using Verizon’s fast LTE network, 10 minutes of Netflix viewing used up between 100 and 200MB. So streaming just two 2-hour films can use close to 5GB!  Better not give up your unlimited data plan.

Video Conferencing (Hangouts and Skype) – Just like streaming movies or YouTube videos, when you are engaged in a video conversation on apps like Facetime, Google+ Hangouts, or Skype, you will be chewing up a lot of data.  We don’t have statistics for Facetime, but according to PC World, Hangouts used roughly six times more data–30MB per 2-minute session, than Skype’s 5MB.

Facebook –  A year ago Facebook would have occupied a much lower position on this list, but now that the Facebook app is configured to start playing video immediately when you encounter it in the news feed?  Yep, you guessed it – now Facebook is a data hog, too!  You can tweak the settings to turn that feature off – we’ll cover that in the next article on “How Do I Manage My Mobile Data Usage?”  Also, be advised that Twitter is planning to implement a similar feature for video soon.

Streaming Audio – With a decent data plan, streaming audio won’t really make a sizable dent unless you are a very heavy user.  For example, PC World says that listening to Pandora for an hour a day for a month will use about 1.76GB of data.  Spotify typically uses a bit more because it is a more interactive app, but you can adjust the streaming quality to use less data (as we’ll discuss in our next post).  Although Audio uses a lot less data than video, it can sometimes be easy to get into trouble with audio because we generally use it in the background while we’re doing something else.  In other words, it uses a lot less data than video but we tend to use it for much longer periods of time.  If that’s your usage pattern, it’s a safer bet to use WiFi when listening to Pandora or Spotify to save your mobile data.

Web Surfing – Although web surfing does use mobile data, it is not one of the heavier users (excepting video, of course).  The Verizon Wireless calculator estimates that visiting 1500 web pages per month, or 50 per day, will use about half of 1GB (or 585MB) per month.  Of course, if someone is visiting 50 sites per day, that might indicate other issues!

Maps – You might not know this, but when you are using the Maps or Navigate functions on your phone, you are using your data connection.  Your phone doesn’t use mobile data to figure out where you are (which uses the GPS function), but to download maps to display where you are.  If you travel a lot for work, your data usage for turn-by-turn directions can add up – 30 minutes per day will use about 75MB per month.  In the next article, we’ll discuss a couple of apps you can use to download maps over WiFi before you head out the door.  Also, as a side note, the GPS radio is a bit of a battery hog as well.

Free Texting Apps – Apple’s iMessage, Google Voice or a variety of third-party apps like TextFree, textPlus or WhatsApp, all use your cellular data.  Also, if you tend to share pictures or video, you’ll use a lot more.

Email – Fortunately for those of us with multiple accounts, email is a very light user of mobile data.  According to the Verizon Wireless calculator, sending and receiving 1500 emails a month will use only 14.65 MB of your monthly data plan.

Text Messaging and Twitter – Regular texting (using the carrier’s application) does not use mobile data; it uses a voice network service called SMS (Short Messaging Service).  Messages that contain photos or video are sent via a cellular network service called MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), so these messages do not use the data plan, either.  If you own an iPhone and you use the iMessage service instead (when texting another iPhone), then you are using the mobile data network.  However, this application is similar to Twitter in that it only sends 160 characters at a time and these messages use only a tiny amount of data.

So clearly, there will be a lot of variation in how people in your organization use mobile data with smartphones, tablets and mobile hotspots.  It all depends on the applications used to get work done.  The cellular data calculators mentioned above can give you estimates of your usage based on how you use your smartphones, but your best bet is always to monitor your organization’s data usage during the month.  That way you can react to changing patterns and act to avoid data overage charges on your next bill. In an upcoming post, we will talk about strategies you can use to minimize your data usage. If you want some help you can always check out our Mobile Management Service, which will give you reports on usage and even make changes if necessary.

Posted in