Why you shouldn’t complain about LTE data caps (on smartphones)

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Whenever we run a story about data caps on either Globe or Smart’s LTE network, we’re greeted by the same comments on both the site and our Facebook page deriding the new technology. It’s not that consumers hate the tech – they actually love the promise of blazing fast internet – it’s just that a lot of them are already complaining about the sure to be tacked on data caps on the new wireless technology. Heck, Smart has already said that once April 30 rolls around, they’ll be imposing 1.5GB data caps for mobile devices, and users will have to pay for additional bandwidth once they hit those numbers. A lot of people don’t like that – and that’s completely understandable, because everyone wants unlimited anything, right?

 

But one thing that most people don’t realize is that a large number of consumers don’t need unlimited data. For the record, I’m talking about unlimited data for smartphones – data caps on USB dongles and sticks are completely different because of their intended use (we’ll be touching more on this later). It’s hard to explain this particular fact to people because intrinsically we do not want limitations on any of the devices we own. But if you honestly look at your typical daily consumption, you’d probably be surprised at how little data you consume everyday. The screenshot above was taken from a friend’s Galaxy S III and represents probably one of the most tech savvy individuals I know, and even then he’s not even at the halfway point of his 1GB data cap.

This isn’t just conjuncture, by the way – there has been numerous studies made in the US about how people use their phones for their data. Research firm NPD Connected Intelligence says   that a majority subscribers of T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and Sprint Nextel do not use more than 2GB of data per month. The research firm collected data from 1000 Android smartphones running on the different networks and realized the same thing most carriers do – a typical user does not need unlimited data. Sure, there will always be a few outliers that will  consume more than 2GB of data a month, but again, that’s not the majority. Why is that?

To answer that particular question, you will have to understand how most people use a smartphone. While smartphones have the capability of going online, being able to download apps and all that jazz, you will have to realize that it’s not a device that you will sit down and use the entire day without stopping. Most of us just check Facebook. Twitter and browse the web for 15 to 20 minutes at a time before sitting down in front of a PC (and actually doing productive stuff). Even if we wanted to actually use our smartphones the entire day without stopping, its limited battery capacity would not allow us to do that.

One of the most oft repeated arguments in regards to data caps, especially when applied to LTE is this: why would you even pay for a service that gives you fast internet that you can’t even use to download PC games, movies or other content with without exhausting your data cap? The simple answer for that is that you’re thinking about it wrong. You’re looking at it from a wrong point of view.

Mobile data is exactly that – it gives you access to the internet while on the move. LTE makes sense for mobile devices like smartphones because when we check our Facebook, Twitter or any other app on our device, we don’t have a lot of time to sit around and wait for it to load. We have a finite time on our smartphones before something else takes our attention. Think of LTE as a Ferrari. You need to get somewhere right this instant, so you pick the fastest car there is. Of course, if you’re getting a fast car, it also means that it consumes way more fuel than a sedan, so it’s going to cost a lot more to run. It’s a completely different thing once we sit down and start our PC at our homes or at our office – we are in it for the long haul and have the luxury of reliable, fixed internet (most of the time). LTE on USB dongles are completely different – users will typically use USB dongles on desktops and laptops, and as such will mirror the usage characteristics of a fixed line. That’s why Smart has a higher data cap for their LTE USB dongles compared to their mobile devices. Even then the simple truth of the matter is this: you will run out of data if you treat LTE like a dedicated fixed line. That’s not what it was intended for, at least, not yet.

While both Globe and Smart did not want to comment on the average amount of mobile data used by their subscribers, we’re pretty sure that their average won’t be too far off from NPD’s study. This means that if you’re going to grab an LTE enabled phone (or have an LTE-ready iPhone 5) you needn’t worry about data caps. Chances are you’re probably not going to hit them anyway.