Boingo Wireless, the company with a virtual Wi-Fi network comprised of more than 500,000 hotspots, officially added a data usage feature to its app for iOS on Thursday. The new Boingo Wi-Finder for iOS is available in the iTunes App Store and remains free of charge, although Boingo’s network services typically have a cost associated. The company does have some free Wi-Fi options, most recently a collaboration with Google for free Wi-Fi access sponsored by Google Offers.
The data usage tracker is exactly what a wireless network finder app should include as it demonstrates the benefits of offloading data from expensive cellular networks to lower priced, or free, Wi-Fi hotspots.
I took an early look at the new software on my iPhone 4S and it couldn’t be simpler to use. You just enter the amount of mobile broadband data your smartphone plan allows, as well as your costs on a per Gigabyte basis. The app also needs to know what day of the month your data plan billing cycle starts. After that, the app tracks both Wi-Fi and cellular usage, providing information on how much money you’re saving through using Wi-Fi.
The tracking information appears in an easy-to-read graph and there’s a constantly updated pie chart showing the percentage of time your iPhone or iPad is using Wi-Fi vs cellular data. The software also projects three metrics for the month, based on your usage history: Total data usage; Cellular usage; and Wi-Fi usage. The savings from using Wi-Fi is calculated through your per Gigabyte broadband cost.
Boingo’s updated app keeps the original features from its 2011 debut, so you can use it to find Wi-Fi hotspots nearby. It also includes a free VPN function for secure Wi-Fi connections. I like the addition of the data usage tracking because it can provide a true picture of data usage on both cellular and Wi-Fi networks. We know that Wi-Fi offload can help reduce cellular network demand, but according to research from Parks Associates, 50 percent of smartphone owners don’t know how much data they use each month.
Sure, you could look at your smartphone bill, but that’s after the fact — when you may have overages to pay — and it’s too late to take advantage of Wi-Fi offloading at that point. A combined data usage tool with a Wi-Fi finder provides the opportunity to proactively avoid overages or bandwidth throttling, helping to save money and give a better mobile experience at the same time.