Mo­bile plans: Steph Nash

The trick to pick­ing a plan with just the amount of data to suit your needs is to work out what type of user you are

Money Magazine Australia - - CONTENTS - STORY STEPH NASH

Smart­phone users have a very com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with their mo­bile data. Although the lat­est Aus­tralian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Author­ity (ACMA) mo­bile data re­port shows that in­stances of bill shock have de­clined, we’re still pay­ing around $60 a month on av­er­age in charges we didn’t an­tic­i­pate. How do we stop this? By pick­ing the right plan for our mo­bile habits.

WHERE DOES ALL YOUR DATA GO?

Data users can be clas­si­fied into three cat­e­gories: low, medium or high use. On­line com­par­i­son site WhistleOut clas­si­fies low data use as 1GB a month, medium use as be­tween 2GB and 3GB a month and high data use as 5GB a month or more.

Cer­tain apps use more data per hour than oth­ers, so de­pend­ing on what apps you’re us­ing at the time, your daily data us­age can fluc­tu­ate wildly. This makes it dif­fi­cult to iden­tify where your data is go­ing, which is what you need to know to ac­cu­rately pre­dict how much data you’re go­ing to use each month so you don’t have to over­sub­scribe to $10 data add-ons or overzeal­ous data plans.

To help con­sumers get an idea of where their data goes, the team at WhistleOut has run tests on the most pop­u­lar apps to iden­tify how much data they re­quire per hour. From there, the hard part is work­ing out how much time on av­er­age you would spend each day on each app away from your home or work­place wi-fi con­nec­tion.

SO­CIAL ME­DIA

So­cial me­dia apps are the big data killers. And like it or not, many of us are too ad­dicted to them to do any­thing about it.

Face­book uses be­tween 80MB and 160MB ev­ery hour, de­pend­ing on how much video con­tent you’re brows­ing. If you use the app for an hour ev­ery day, you would be us­ing be­tween 2.4GB and 4.8GB each month on Face­book alone. This 2GB range shows to what ex­tent video con­tent can af­fect your data us­age, so if you’re look­ing for ways to cut back, dis­abling Face­book’s video au­to­play fea­ture is a must.

WhistleOut edi­tor Joe Han­lon says that out of all the so­cial me­dia apps he tested, the re­sults for In­sta­gram’s data use was by far the most sur­pris­ing. The pho­to­shar­ing and video-shar­ing app clocks up a whop­ping 720MB an hour, mean­ing that if you spent one hour a day on the app, your In­sta­gram use would equate to an enor­mous 21.6GB a month. For hard-core In­sta­gram users, Han­lon rec­om­mends a min­i­mum data al­lowance of 20GB a month.

“We were shocked at how quickly In­sta­gram used up data,” he says. “It’s as if YouTube was load­ing a whole bunch of videos in the back­ground ready for you to watch them just in case you need to.”

If you travel a lot or have fam­ily liv­ing overseas, you might reg­u­larly use a video com­mu­ni­ca­tions app such as FaceTime or Skype. While you might ex­pect these apps to use a lot of data each time, WhistleOut rec­om­mends a mid-range plan of at least 3GB if you’re go­ing to use them for about an hour a day.

STREAM­ING

Un­til re­cently, the rise of the new stream­ing apps in Aus­tralia made large data plans of 8GB and above highly ap­peal­ing. Cul­ture vul­tures ea­ger to catch up on their favourite tele­vi­sion shows on their com­mute could use Netflix or Stan on the go – al­beit at the ex­pense of their data. Au­dio­philes can use Spo­tify and Ap­ple Music to lis­ten to the lat­est tracks and cu­rated playlists in real time – what­ever songs you want, when­ever you want. But re­cent up­dates to these apps mean that you can see and hear as much as you want on the go with­out us­ing a sin­gle megabyte of your mo­bile data.

You can now pre-load a lot of video and au­dio con­tent us­ing wi-fi be­fore you travel. Spo­tify has had this fea­ture the long­est, fol­lowed by Netflix and, most re­cently, Stan. “You’d be silly not to down­load your videos in ad­vance,” says Han­lon. “You might find it more con­ve­nient just to stream on the go, but if you’re re­ally data con­scious you could plan ahead.”

What sort of sav­ings are we talk­ing about? The music stream­ing sites are the less po­tent, with Spo­tify us­ing about 150MB an hour. This comes to about 4.5GB a month if you stream for at least an hour ev­ery day. The data sav­ings for video stream­ing are even more sig­nif­i­cant.

Of the three big video stream­ing apps, Netflix uses the least amount of data at 250MB an hour. One hour a day of Netflix on the go would use 7.5GB in a month. Stan sur­pris­ingly uses the most, at 570MB an hour or 17.1GB over a whole month.

So if you were on a large data plan to jus­tify stream­ing video con­tent for at least an hour ev­ery day, you could eas­ily pre-down­load your con­tent and spend way less on a medium-use plan.

If you pre­fer the con­ve­nience of stream­ing on the go, Han­lon says the sites are at least do­ing as much as they can to make sure you’re us­ing your data ef­fi­ciently. Each app al­lows you to change the bit rate of your stream so that you can view or lis­ten to your con­tent at a low qual­ity, sav­ing you data. Most apps also is­sue idle warn­ings to make sure you haven’t fallen asleep or walked away from your phone with­out end­ing your stream.

If you’re look­ing for ways to cut back on your data, dis­abling Face­book’s video auto-play fea­ture is a must

GAM­ING, NAV­I­GAT­ING AND SHOP­PING

On­line games don’t use up as much mo­bile data as you would ex­pect. WhistleOut tested two pop­u­lar mo­bile games – Hearth­stone, a me­dieval card game with 10 mil­lion to 50 mil­lion down­loads on Google Play, and Fire Em­blem He­roes, a Nin­tendo role-play­ing game with be­tween 1 mil­lion and 5 mil­lion down­loads on Google Play. These two pop­u­lar apps av­er­aged a tiny 3MB an hour, so you could play both games sev­eral hours a day with­out break­ing 1GB in a month. This might give you a bet­ter idea of where your teenager’s data is go­ing – or rather, where it def­i­nitely isn’t go­ing, de­spite what they may tell you!

Han­lon says nav­i­ga­tion apps like Google Maps and Ap­ple Maps are also sur­pris­ingly low data users. “I quickly looked at my maps data use for this month and, even though I’ve used it a fair bit this month, it was only about 15MB,” he says.

“It’s re­ally just down­load­ing the bits that you need

from where you are – it’s not like it down­loads a whole coun­try’s worth of maps, it only down­loads what you need at the time.” If you’re re­ally wor­ried about your nav­i­ga­tor eat­ing up your data, you can al­ways down­load cer­tain ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas be­fore you leave and use them off­line while you’re driv­ing.

One data burner that might sur­prise you is on­line shop­ping apps – specif­i­cally, the apps that in­clude video, where you can view items of cloth­ing for sale straight from the cat­walk. Han­lon says that in a minute of us­ing the ASOS app he clocked up about 5MB, which per hour would equate to 300MB. Not many of us are look­ing at these apps for an hour ev­ery day but, if you were to, you’d be burn­ing through 9GB of data in a month.

WHICH PLAN IS BEST

Low data users prob­a­bly don’t have a lot of mo­bile apps or a highly ac­tive so­cial me­dia pres­ence. To be us­ing only about 1GB of data a month, you wouldn’t be check­ing so­cial me­dia on the go very much (if you even have a so­cial me­dia ac­count), and are likely to re­strict your daily mo­bile use to calls and text mes­sages us­ing phone credit. Most plans with about 1GB of data come with un­lim­ited calls and SMS but there are a few that still limit you to a few hun­dred dol­lars’ worth of credit. These are usu­ally the cheap­est picks of the crop. If you’re not at all wor­ried about ex­ceed­ing your limit, both for data and credit, then go right ahead but you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to get bet­ter value from a plan with un­lim­ited calls and mes­sages. (See ta­bles, page 51.)

To use be­tween 2GB and 3GB a month, a medium data user would be likely to have sev­eral so­cial me­dia ac­counts and apps they’re us­ing a few times a day out­side of wi-fi. You might watch a few Face­book videos here and there or use Google Maps to help you get around ev­ery so of­ten but you prob­a­bly don’t spend any more than about an hour a day us­ing your apps on the go.

Han­lon says high data use is all about the con­sump­tion of on­line video con­tent. To be us­ing 5GB of data or more a month, you are likely to be spend­ing more than an hour a day on so­cial me­dia and would reg­u­larly stream video and au­dio con­tent on the go.

BIG­GER BUT NOT BET­TER

To avoid bill shock con­sumers are start­ing to take out larger plans as an in­sur­ance pol­icy but in do­ing so are sign­ing up to plans that are too gen­er­ous for their data us­age, ac­cord­ing to Han­lon.

With the num­ber of large data plans on the mar­ket on the in­crease (such as Amaysim’s new 70GB mo­bile plan or Op­tus’s am­bi­tious 100GB mo­bile plan), con­sumers

ap­pear to be tak­ing the “more bang for your buck” ap­proach. But this might not nec­es­sar­ily be the smartest way to go. “Large data plans have al­most be­come a mar­ket­ing tac­tic,” says Han­lon. “You can see why buy­ing a plan with the most gi­ga­bytes sounds like it’s the best value but there has to be a point where you say there’s too much.”

“If you end up pay­ing $10 or $20 a month more than you need to as an in­sur­ance pol­icy, then over a year that’s a lot of money to waste on data that you don’t use.”

If you end up pay­ing $10 or $20 a month more than you need to, over a year that’s a lot of money to waste”

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