The pathetic state of things on cell data

I don’t do much calling via a cellphone. Maybe about 20-25 phone calls per year. The bulk of my calls is done via Skype for free, and occasionally Google Voice/WiFi, or a landline. Therefore, I don’t need more than a Pay As You Go, a’la carte plan, which is indeed what I use.

However, while I’m not big on calls and SMS, I’m big on data. I want to check my email, twitter, the news, check for comments on my blog. I need data more than I need phone calls. The phone call functionality on my smartphone is there only in case of emergency.

So far I haven’t had any data plan on my phones. I want to have one, but I find them ridiculously expensive. AT&T and T-Mobile, the two main GSM providers in the US, recently restructured their no-contract data plans. Unfortunately, the prices are as high as ever: T-Mobile’s, and AT&T’s.

I ran a little utility called Smart Monitor Lite on my Android phone for a few months now. It calculates your Wifi or 3G usage of data per month. What I found out using this utility over a long period of time is two things:

1. To use data on a smartphone in a pretty conservative manner (just email, RSS app for news, twitter app, very lite usage of few web sites), I need 500 MB per month.

2. To use data on a smartphone in a modern way (e.g. Google Maps, media streaming, full web browsing etc), I need 2-2.5 GB per month.

The real question is, how much do these options WORTH for me. And the answer is this: I would never pay more than $10 per month for option #1, and I would never pay for more than $30 per month for option #2.

Basically, what I would ultimately prefer is this:
– $120 per year, for 500 MB of data per month.
– $100 per year, for voice/SMS at standard prices (as it is now).
– Both voice/data have roll-over to the next month/year.
– I can roam when out of the country, at least for voice (currently I can’t).
– Ability to tether. Since I’m paying for the actual data, the carrier should stop putting limits on how I’m using that data. If I just want to add mayo on the data and eat them in one go, I should be able to.

So basically, I want to pay $220 per year, and to be done with it (or go month by month, or 3/6 month intervals, with adjusted prices). I want to use my own phone (I don’t need stinking subsidized phones), and I want to have this basic voice/data plan. Why can’t I have something so simple?

Some people tell me that cell data is a very expensive affair for the carriers, and that I need to respect that fact. But when I see AT&T charging $35 for 200 MB, and “just” $60 for 5 GB, I somehow have a very difficult time believing that. I think they’re just toying with us at best, and defrauding us at worst. These words might sound harsh to you, but I’ve had enough waiting for the 21st Century to really arrive.

15 Comments »

Adam S wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 10:14 AM PST:

I use my phone all day everyday. Wifi at home, wifi at work, 3g everywhere else.

I very rarely hit 300 MB, due to the fact that I’m on wifi about 90% of the time. I generally do 220-250 MB over actual 3G/EDGE. I don’t see how you could do 2GB if you have Wifi in your house given that your use will be from your house the overwhelming majority of the time.


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Eugenia wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 10:42 AM PST:

At home, I have wifi, yes. But whenever I’m out, I need 3G. I don’t work, so I can’t fallback to work’s wifi. Has to be 3G.


Adam S wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 10:56 AM PST:

How often are you out and using data?

Like I said, I use 3 push accounts, push notifications, etc all day long. I don’t think it’s easy to use that much data unless you’re often not on wifi.


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Eugenia wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 11:05 AM PST:

I’m not out very often. But when I’m out, it’s usually because I’m on a trip, and that’s when I’d need 500 MB. We’re going to Hawaii for over a week soon, for example. After that we’ve planned Palm Springs, then Oregon. I simply don’t want to be out of data allowance when I need it.

Besides, this does not solve the problem of price. Even just for 200 MB, at $35, is a preposterous price to pay.


Al wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 12:19 PM PST:

I completely agree with you. I hate the thought of the huge monthly fees required for a smart phone. That is why I a have a very basic prepaid phone, even though I could technically afford a iPhone or droid or whatever and the monthly fee and I would put it to great use I refuse to pay for it.

People are surprised when I tell them that I only spend about $120 a year on cell service.


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Eugenia wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 1:51 PM PST:

Yup. I don’t understand how the majority of US people are going for 2 year contracts. Sure, sure, there are some individuals who do need a lot of calls, so for these a contract make sense. But for the life of me, I can’t justify that 90% of the people really NEED 500 minutes a month! It seems to me that people don’t exercise restrain on themselves, and they don’t research for other ways to call, like the free Skype or Google Voice via SIP, or normal IM for “texting” when on WiFi. Insetad, it’s all about consuming, consuming, consuming. It’s just wrong. The only ones who get profited with these overblown prices are the carriers. They have created an ecosystem where people believe they *should* buy contracts. The majority, shouldn’t!


memsom wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 2:01 PM PST:

I have 500MB data in my package. It was unlimited, but O2 in the UK have followed AT&T and decided to limit data allowances. Unlike AT&T, you get the new package when you upgrade, new customer or not.

But, I’m currently on 516MB received and 80.9MB sent since 28/08. I used data constantly. I use Facebook and Twitter and web, I have about 6 or 7 mail accounts enabled and probably get 100+ emails per day. I have it syncing 4 calendars with an exchange account and 3 Google Cals. I pay £35 per month, but have a 30% discount arranged by a family member who is an O2 employee. I only upgraded to iPhone 4 because of this, as it was WAY too good a deal to pass up. For another £5 (less 30%) I can bolt on another 500MB of data.

I use Wifi to download large updates and podcasts, but that’s only stuff too large for 3G. I maybe use Wifi other than that, rarely. I never use is outside of my home, unless I’m over seas.

So – I have a usage pattern that mirrors yours. I don’t seem to use as much data though…


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Eugenia wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 2:19 PM PST:

In a time of 1 month and 13 days, you used overall about 600 MB. This is in the vicinity of 500 MB per month! So yes, that’s how much I need too. So I don’t see how anything I wrote comes into contradiction to how much you use.


Glenn Thomas wrote on October 13th, 2010 at 2:46 AM PST:

I’m on a good plan where I only pay for calls. Except the payments for the phone itself (Xperia X10) and 1gb of data will cost me $35/month for two years. Without the data the phone would cost me $32/month. So that’s $3/month I’m paying for 1gb.

That said, I’m losing the patience for mobile phones. I have people call me who expect me to call back and talk for a while, which would probably end up costing me the price of a decent take away or cafe meal. Then they get upset when I don’t call back. But for them it’s ok because they’re on a $99 monthly cap where they can talk and absorb as much radiation as they want, and it will still only cost them $99/month + the price of the phone.

Eugenia, you seem to have the right idea just using your phone for emergencies. I’m starting to wonder if I should replace my mobile with a 3G enabled netbook, notebook or iPad.


memsom wrote on October 13th, 2010 at 5:24 AM PST:

I only meant that I use my phone in a “modern” way. When I had a SE K800i paired to an N800, I used it a bit. But as soon as I got my iPhone, I literally don’t event think about how much data I use. I also believe that O2 is only looking at the “data received”. My Wife has had her iPhone for a month or so longer, has never reset her stats and has only used ~130MB of data… She uses it less than me. I’m lazy and often don’t use it on WiFi, even when at home. I figure, worst that will happen is I’ll get throttled data (as per O2 fair usage policies) and will pay the extra £5 for double the data.


memsom wrote on October 13th, 2010 at 5:26 AM PST:

Dam.. hit send…

She uses it less than me, but still uses it way more than she ever did her old Nokia phone.


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Eugenia wrote on October 13th, 2010 at 8:23 AM PST:

>I only meant that I use my phone in a “modern” way.

No, you don’t actually. You’re using your phone in a “standard” way (the one that requires 500 MB). A “modern” way would require you to use Google Maps for navigation, watch Youtube videos on a daily basis, stream most of your music off of RDIO/MOG/Spotify, read full web sites. This modern way needs 1.5 to 2 GB per month. So don’t pat yourself on the back that you’re using your phone to its full potential, because you don’t.

Many times we got lost with JBQ during vacations, or we needed to find a specific shop in the City, and we used Google Maps on his Droid for these situations. On a 500 MB plan, that would have been out of the question if we had to do it as much as we currently do it on his Droid.


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Eugenia wrote on October 15th, 2010 at 12:06 PM PST:

“U.S. teens average 3,339 text messages per month”, writes BGR. If that doesn’t show the problem of over-consumption, I don’t know what is.


BenHughesStudios wrote on October 16th, 2010 at 12:36 PM PST:

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Eugenia wrote on October 16th, 2010 at 2:11 PM PST:

Not a bad deal, but still more expensive and “more” than what I need. However, it’s CDMA, and I need GSM. I’m traveling to Europe all too often.


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