Can you survive on 500MB mobile data per month?

Summary:With mobile data being capped away from the existing 'unlimited' model, often at 500MB and subsequent, sizeable chunks with increasing charges, could you survive with a lower capped limit?

The answer should really be "yes", with no argument. But let's not turn this into another one of my half-arsed essays...

Just before upgrading to my new BlackBerry contract (I sent the Torch straight back, opting instead for a far more productive, less fun (and weighty) Bold 9700), I was fully aware my new contract would no longer cover unlimited mobile data access.

Considering the perceived amount of data I churn through a month - including over 100 emails a day spread over two email accounts, attachments downloaded, Facebook and Twitter (photos and media included), uploading content, updating and downloading mobile application and through browsing various mobile sites, it turns out I don't use all that much.

When I signed this current contract for 24 months, after taking absolutely minutes to come to a rational, logical and well-thought out decision; balancing the tariff, minutes, data limits, monthly costs and contract length, I signed on the dotted line.

But the only data bundle option I could go for, really, was the 750MB data limit per month, which just so happened to be thrown in automatically with the £30 line rental and £5 BlackBerry bolt-on per month.

Looking back over the last six months, I calculated my monthly usage.

Only 85MB per month on average. Who needs unlimited mobile data access when 100MB a month at a cheaper rate would suffice? To me, 750MB is lot of data per month, and I am a 'heavy' user of my phone, even though the aforementioned data usage shows that in reality I am not.

As Charles Arthur at the Guardian pointed out a few months ago, the average user on my network, O2 only uses 200MB a month. Taking into account the poor 3G coverage in the UK though O2 had the monopoly on the iPhone and subsequent 3G/S for years, it isn't bad going.

But while 97% of O2's customers used less than 500MB per month, a staggering 0.1% of customers used over 36% of the total data consumed by its entire user base.

Why? It's those pesky file sharers again, ruining it for the rest of us. Granted, this is the first gripe I've had with file sharers and pirates, regardless of the fact that it doesn't affect me directly nor the vast majority of O2's customers.

But not everybody churns through less than 100MB per month. The key, as one student employee of my local phone store told me, is that BlackBerry devices which are growing ever more popular with the Generation Y uses network compression; scaling down 90% of all bandwidth over the network. I can't prove this, but I'll take his word for it.

Other considerations to take into account such as the capable network speed of your device - whether it is 3G compatible tied in with whether you can receive 3G speeds in your area. But also, the prevalence of Wi-Fi access, and again whether your device has it plays a part too.

But in most cases, the Generation Y do not need Wi-Fi as a necessary complement to a cell smartphone. Yes, there will be times when you want to watch a video on YouTube on your device, but more often than not it can be sent as a Facebook link when you're back at home on your home broadband connected computer.

I think in this case, when customers revolt because something with unlimited length or depth gets clipped to a finite amount, it pays long term to give customers more than they need - or at least think that.

AT&T offer a $25 per month plan to access a 2GB capped data limit, and a $15 per month plan which offers a significantly lower cap of only 200MB. But I would jump at the chance for each month to buy an extra two beers with the ten bucks I'd gain back.

Nobody uses 2GB of mobile data bandwidth; unless you are indeed file sharing from your cell phone or download your entire email mailbox onto a non-BlackBerry device in one go. But their home broadband must be slower than roadkill playing chicken in the traffic.

[poll id="34"]

Topics: Mobility

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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