Q: How much can I do with a 2 GB cellular data plan on my iPhone? — Candice
A: A signal that the ‘all-you-can-eat’ data plans from cellular providers may be coming to an end began with AT&T announcing that it would no longer offer unlimited data plans for its cellular customers.
The popularity of the iPhone can be blamed for the overtaxed AT&T network and a key driver in its decision to be the first to limit data plans.
Most industry insiders feel that the other networks will likely follow suit at some point as the number of mobile Internet devices continues to grow on their networks. (Is Verizon next if the Droid X sells well or if the rumors that it will get the iPhone in January are true?)
The thought process is that if users have to think about their Internet usage, they won’t be so quick to use bandwidth hogging Web sites such as Pandora or YouTube. It’s very likely that the 80/20 rule is in play (80% of the bandwidth is used by 20% of the users).
Mobile broadband services for laptops offered by the cellular companies have always had a data limit (usually 5 GB) that converted to ‘per megabyte’ premiums if you went over, so it’s now creeping into smartphone plans.
With all this in mind, your first step to understanding how much bandwidth you might need is to understand which activities use the most bandwidth.
Things like sending a simple text message or viewing basic Web sites use very little bandwidth, while streaming audio and video can eat up big chunks of bandwidth.
The 2 GB limit is AT&T’s largest data package for smartphones, so here are some scenarios that might help you understand how much you can do with that amount of data.
If all you did was send out simple text email messages, you could send nearly 2,000 per day before you would eat up the 2 GB data plan.
Even if you added an attachment of around 300k to each email you sent out, you would still need to send 235 messages per day, every day of the month, to max the plan.
If you only surfed the Web, you would have to go to 380 pages per day, every day of the month, to max out 2 GB.
If you love posting pictures via Facebook or Twitter, you could post 140 times per day with photos before you hit the 2 GB limit.
If you are obsessed with downloading apps or songs from iTunes, you would want to keep it to fewer than 20 downloads per day or pay the premium.
But here is where you can get into trouble: streaming media.
Pandora is an amazing free music service that allows anyone to create custom radio stations based on their specific tastes in individual songs and is very addictive. But spend two hours a day streaming music and you will nearly max out the 2 GB plan.
YouTube is the most popular video site and most smartphones can easily view videos in both standard and high-definition by clicking a few buttons on the screen.
In standard definition, if you watched 35 minutes of video per day, you would max out the 2 GB plan, but if you watch a lot of HD video, you really need to be careful.
YouTube limits HD video to 1 GB or roughly 10 minutes (whichever is less), so it is conceivable that if you watched the wrong two videos in one month, you could max out your data plan!
While that isn’t very likely, the popularity of HD video on YouTube is exploding and generally they are five to seven times the size of a standard definition video, so five to seven minutes of HD video per day could put a real dent into the 2 GB plan.
The reality is that you will use some combination of these tasks under normal circumstances. Unless you’re a teenager that’s obsessed with streaming content, you will likely be just fine; if you are a parent of one of those teens, you may want to keep your iPhone away from them!
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