Dave Allen

Data bloat and your mobile wireless plan

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It’s interesting that this article in today’s New York Times: A Ballooning Megabyte Budget # focuses on mobile wireless data plans and how easily it is for people to break their carrier’s data plan barrier, yet doesn’t mention the new iPad and its Retina display. At 2048 by 1536 pixels, that beautiful looking content on its screen comes at a price – storage. An iPad with mobile wireless connection has a data plan too and it’s not only streaming Netflix movies that may break your plan’s limits.

Still, the article does a fair job of alerting mobile users to the perils of data bloat as most people remain uninformed about how to measure data size as they use their devices. See below:

But what, exactly, is a megabyte?

If a sampling of pedestrians on the streets of Brooklyn is any guide, most people have only a vague idea. One said a megabyte was “the amount of something we have to use the Internet,” adding, “We should have three or four.”

Miranda Popkey, 24, was closer: “It’s a measure of how much information you store. If there are too many of them, I can’t send my e-mail attachment.”

A megabyte is, in this context, 1,000 kilobytes — or about the size of a photo taken with a decent digital camera, or roughly one minute of a song, or a decent stack of e-mail.

Therein lies the problem: Counting things like minutes and text messages is fairly easy, but there is no intuitive or natural way to gauge data use.

And even the “experts” get tripped up:

Even the most sophisticated of mobile customers can be tripped up — people like Paul DeBeasi, a research vice president at Gartner specializing in wireless technology. He said that he once streamed a Netflix movie to his iPad and was charged extra for exceeding his data plan limit.

Mr. DeBeasi did the math and found that watching two hours of a standard-definition Netflix video consumes two gigabytes — or 2,000 megabytes — of data.

“Even if you’re just watching a standard-definition movie and you’re only watching five movies in a month, it’s costing you $100 just to watch those five movies,” he said. Mr. DeBeasi suggested using Wi-Fi networks whenever possible, as this does not run up your carrier’s data meter.