I was shocked by my smartphone bill when I saw how little 3G data I used in the last billing cycle. Clearly Wi-Fi is the reason, but I’m experimenting by going 3G only on my smartphone. How much 3G are you using?


I don’t often look at my cellular phone bills, but I happened to glance at the latest one from T-Mobile. My first full monthly billing cycle didn’t show anything out of the ordinary, but the monthly data usage happened to catch my eye. I thought I chewed up more than 437 MB of mobile broadband, but I’m sure that T-Mobile keeps accurate records. After thinking over my usage patterns, I recalled the recent post James wrote in which he asked about Wi-Fi usage on smartphones. That’s when I realized my Wi-Fi pattern at the home office greatly impacted my overall smartphone 3G usage. But to really see how much of an impact there is, I’ve turned off the Wi-Fi radio on my Nexus One and I’m leaving it off for the remainder of my current billing cycle, which is about three weeks.

I’m mainly curious what life would be like without Wi-Fi, as well as what the impact to the phone’s battery and the overall experience would be. Obviously, there are wireless hotspots all over the place and I’m not recommending that anyone walk down this path with me. Besides, there’s plenty of evidence that shows how smartphones are fueling the demand for Wi-Fi. This isn’t an attempt to buck the tide, I’m just experimenting.

I’ve already seen one impact — the battery on my Nexus One is draining faster, although I did order a spare battery today — they’re now available direct from Google for $25 each. Having a second battery for devices is a common practice for me and not related to my 3G lifestyle. But when home, my Wi-Fi radio is active and I can stretch my phone usage through a full day, even though it’s my most used device when I’m not in front of a computer. But over the past few days while using 3G-only, I’m making it to around dinnertime with the device. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, but again, it’s nice to see some measurable indication of the drain. I’m not concerned about hitting any 3G bandwidth cap — the base data plans for smartphones in the U.S. are generally unlimited at this point. It’s the data plans for larger devices like netbooks and notebooks that come with the 5 GB monthly cap. With a larger display and a less-limiting operating system, these computers are likely to eat through more mobile broadband over the course of a month.

Again, I’m not advocating anyone else wean their smartphones off of Wi-Fi. Why wouldn’t you use a free or low-cost alternative to 3G that’s often faster? But I am curious if you’ve looked at your own 3G usage. How much 3G bandwidth did your smartphone consume last month or during your last billing cycle? Is it more, less or about what you expected? I’ve broken the smaller amounts down into chunks because I suspect very few folks are actually using more than 1 GB of 3G data on their smartphones. Unless they tether for modem use, of course. ;)

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  1. I have noticed I am usually under 400MB with my Palm Pre. I did have one month when I was traveling that I pulled down 2 gigs, mostly because of youtube videos for my son :)

  2. We live in a rural area where WiFi is almost non existant.
    The local hospital has WiFi but you can’t even read JK mobile because it thinks your site is spam or something.

    Out in the field, it is handy to check email or pull up a website witrhout returning to the office.

    Tethering causes one to really chew up bandwidth.

    We have an “unlimited” plan–as in 5gb per month.
    Don’t go over, as there are OUTRAGEOUS overage fees!

    1. Kevin C. Tofel SAM Wednesday, March 3, 2010

      “We have an “unlimited” plan–as in 5gb per month”

      Is that a smartphone plan or a 3G device for notebooks?

      1. Is that a smartphone plan or a 3G device for notebooks?>>

        It’s on the cell phone that you can hook to your computer.
        We can also access the internet on the phone itself too.

        I think the cell companies should just come out and say 5gb plan, not make it sound “Unlimited” when it clearly is not.

  3. I am usually in the 300 – 500mb range though I have seen about 1G before. I don’t use wifi that much as I am ususally close to my PC and/or I feel I want to “get what I pay for”!

  4. Pulling about 500 MB a month with my Pre, which is a lot more than I used to with my 3GS when I had it last year (about 200-300 MB)..it could be that I used to have the battery % in the statusbar and I was more conscious about data usage..whatever the reason I can’t get enough internets on mah Pre.

  5. A couple of years ago 5GB of data on a phone would be unheard of.

    But ever since I got my Android device (myTouch 3G) from T-Mobile, I stream internet radio all the time (Slacker, Pandora) and use Google Maps navigation frequently.

    A few times overnight I’d forget to turn the streaming music off. (I know bad guy)

    Nevertheless, I monitored my usage through T-Mobile’s website and low and behold I used 6.2 GB’s of data. That’s right GB’s.

    When I used an EDGE capable device like my BlackBerry 8900 with T-Mobile, I rarely would hit over 100 Megs of PCS data since most of the data I’d use was with WiFi.

    1. Yowza! Maybe “over 5 GB” in the poll was too low! ;) Seriously, that’s an amazingly big amount of smartphone data, but I can definitely see it adding up with radio streaming.

  6. I would really like to see ATT come out with multiple data plans for the Iphone. If I could purchase a 2.5 gb..or maybe even a 1gb plan for half of the unlimited plan..I would jump at it. The only sacrifice I’d have to make to fit the bill is to remember to download any songs or larger apps while I’m on a wifi network. It’s really not all that hard to do.

    1. Yup, tiered-usage pricing is something we’re talking about internally at GigaOm as a topic. I’m sure you’re not in the minority on a smaller priced plan with less monthly throughput for the cellular industry as a whole.

      1. I’m interested to hear about this. For several years the US carriers have been pushing hard to get at least $60 per month from a subscriber, either $30 voice + $30 data or $60 for data only (capped at 5GB). In that light the iPad data plans at $14.99 for 250MB or $29.99 for unlimited are pretty unusual (with no contract, can you believe it!). It also shows the type of plans and price points that a major carrier can offer and still make a profit. I wonder what kind of blowback this will have in the larger market.

  7. I haven’t looked at my bills recently and am too lazy to pull up the website right now. But I recently looked on my iPhone at my accumulated (over the life time of the device) usage of voice and data, and was quite surprised about the relatively small (< 5 GB in over a year) usage. Now, admittedly I use WiFi at home and I rarely stream anything. But if you ask my wife, she’d probably tell you that I am constantly reading something (emails, RSS feeds, NY Times, …). So the tiered pricing might actually be something I’d be interested in as well.

  8. Gareth Whiteside Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    I’m with 3 UK and using a HTC HD2. Last month they say I used 750MB but this month I got a text 6 days in to my billing cycle saying I had used more data than the fair use policy allows which is 1GB!

    I don’t understand how this is as I’ve only been checking emails, facebook and twitter.

  9. There’s an app for that :-)
    I use NetCounter on my G1 just to monitor the usage. It’s around 1 GB/ month (mainly WiFi since it’s free + faster + lighter on the battery as you also pointed out). I have to admit I do most (as in > 80%) of … everything on it, it’s just a lot more convenient and more fun then having to go 5-10 m to my computer.
    I thought I was a geek and that’s just me but my wife and 2 other coworkers that are nowhere near as computer-inclined as I am are doing it more and more, it’s just so much fun and natural to just take out your phone, do whatever you need to do that very instant and be done with it.

    1. Thanks Sorin, I just downloaded NetCounter — over 3G, of course. ;)

  10. On my Pre, not including the (around 750MB- redownloading apps) Wifi usage, I’m at 1.05GB, with 7 days left in my billing month.

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