Control the cost of your data plan

BY SHAMILLE SCOTT Business reporter scotts@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 24, 2013

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PEOPLE consume data on their smartphone in a number of ways, some more than others. Picking the wrong data plan could end up costing you thousands of dollars a year in unused bandwidth or overages.


These days, phones aren't just made to give a friend a ring. Now, you can send a friend a video, share a high- definition picture or drop a line in an e-mail.


Because of this, telecommunication companies provide customers with data plans that give them access to the Internet, e-mail and social media sites outside a wi-fi zone, at different data transfer speeds. So if you want more speed, you spend more money.


This is where data could cost you, if you aren't quite keen, thrift or alert.


Knowing your data usage could determine the type of plan you pay for, as well as give you an idea of the likelihood of overages — going over your bandwidth allowances — and incurring extra charges.


Choosing pre-paid or post-paid data plans depends on your lifestyle, said Jamie Ranston, experience architect at Shift Interactive.


Ranston shared with Sunday Finance some estimates of the amount of data you would need for certain activities.


According to the IT expert, e-mails are a commonly used feature of the smartphone and use up hardly any data. If you are just sending regular old e-mails without any pictures, videos, or any other attachments you can basically send an endless amount of e-mails without using up much data, he said.


Sending 2,500 e-mails per month, for example, without attachments, wouldn't take one gigabyte, Ranston emphasised.


Much like e-mailing, web browsing is a required feature of every smartphone. You consume less data to view text-based web pages, but every website is different — if you visit pages with lots of multimedia features, your data numbers will be much higher.


"Two hundred and fify hours per month would typically run you 0.3 gigabytes," the experience architect said.


Then there are the growing social media users.


According to Ranston, Facebook and Twitter were designed to go easy on data.


"Twitter, more so than Facebook because it is heavily text base."


Unless you decide that you will start uploading countless pictures to either social network you can expect to use less than 100 megabytes of data each month.


Like everything else so far, this number greatly depends on just how frequently you use these services - dependent on the number of hours a day you spend on the sites and how often you upload photos, he said.


But add them up, lest you incur the cost of overages.


For example, checks by Sunday Finance show that a post-paid customer of a BlackBerry 4G limited data plan on the Digicel network will be charged $10 per megabyte, after going over the number of gigabytes given as part of the plan.


A Galaxy user on the Digicel network who uses three- gigabytes, pre-paid without a data plan is charged $40 per megabyte, according to SMS messages from the company.


If you are one to live for uploading and downloading high-definition videos every month, going post-paid would be cheaper, Ranston said.


Unlimited post-paid data plans exist, which ensure that you don't run into overages. You could capitalise on that, said Wayne Marsh, an Internet marketing consultant.


Pre-paid users should also add up their data usage, as it could save at least $300 a month. Some iPhone users are probably paying $300 more on a seven-gigabyte data plan when they only need a three-gigabyte package.


You could spend more on data you don't need.


Amanda Thwaites, who recently moved from Toronto, said there was no pre-paid offering where she came from, so she finds pre-paid to be cost-effective in Jamaica.


She uses a BlackBerry and a Samsung Galaxy, which are post-paid and pre-paid, respectively.


Being aware of the charges for overages on the post-paid plan, Thwaites said she doesn't use it for a majority of her data.


But her Galaxy constantly runs data and she gets multiple e-mails all day.


"What helps me to not go over my data usage is having my wi-fi connector on," the commercial manager of Orkin Jamaica Limited said.


With wi-fi available in most places these days, Ranston suggested that you set your mobile phone to connect to wireless Internet it picks up.


"It may also be a good idea to get wi-fi at home if you haven't already had one," he said. "That way you could save heavy data usage for when you are there."


Streaming videos and audio take up a significant amount of data, so does backing up files on your device, as well as playing games online.


Try to do those within a wi-fi zone.


There are so many things you can do with a smartphone these days and activities require bandwidth. You probably think you wont do all the activities your mobile device has to offer.


But, sooner or later, you may give in. When you do, think of your data usage and remember the overage costs and paying for excessive data, Ranston said.


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