How much mobile data do you really use? Judging by the average ad that I hear on the radio for various cell carriers everyone must be clamoring for more and more mobile data. Unlimited…the idea is as American as apple pie, monster trucks, and hair in a can. We want to gorge at the all you can eat buffet of whatever. You can’t stop us. We do what we want!
Heck, until recently I had an unlimited data plan.
However, I could not have told you how much mobile data that I used in any given month. Surely, I needed unlimited data. With a nearly broken iPhone in hand, an unsatisfying visit to my legacy carrier, and mounting frustration I returned home to the Internet.
Armed with the desire to opt out of legacy cell carriers—offering me a leased iPhone X for $45 a month while a new customer gets the same phone for $5 will make you want to switch—and to save some money I started investigating the alternatives. Wading through months of prior bills I discovered that even in our heaviest usage months—December and March, which correspond to trips to Colorado—our mobile data usage never exceeded 4 gigabytes. On average, we used approximately 2 gigabytes of mobile data per month. I had no idea.
This revelation took me down a path of prepaid wireless carriers and lower cost phones. There are a lot of budget or pay as you go carriers out there and I could spend a lot of column inches, there is a dated reference, describing each one. I do not know who wins in the end if you rack and stack all of the variables. I chose to switch to Project Fi from Google. The pricing structure was simple and reasonable. One phone line is $20 per month. An extra phone on the same plan is $15 a month. Data is $10 per gigabyte up to 10 gigabytes when so-called bill protection kicks in. At maximum you are looking at $120, plus taxes and fees, for two phones and unlimited data.
The kicker is that you can spend a whole lot less if you watch your data usage. With an easy to access data usage feature in the Project FI app, data saver features on your phone, and a judicious use of available WiFi you can become a data miser in no time. It’s the same phenomenon I witnessed when my solar photovoltaic system was installed last year. Our household electricity usage was already low compared to American averages, but seeing the production outstrip consumption made me think about little things a lot more. Those little things can really add up over the course of the month.
The past two months have seen a dramatic decrease in data usage as it has become a game. How much less usage, you ask? How about 0.3 gigabytes for two phones for an entire month. Yep, I am going to end up paying ~$3 for data. Suck it unlimited.
All in, for two phones we are paying ~$50 per month versus almost $140 with our prior carrier. That is a difference of almost $1,000 per year with no real change in day to day usage. What could you do with an extra $1,000?
Once you take yourself out of the phone rat race where you need to have the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy it is amazing just how capable budget or mid-range phones have become. What would have been a so-called flagship phone a few years ago is now a budget phone. For $200 I purchased a Motorola G6. It has a bigger screen than my iPhone 6, it has expandable memory, and it runs everything I use on a daily basis with no problems. Tell me again why I was looking to spend $1,000 on an iPhone X?
All of this begs the question why we spend so much on our mobile phones. If you can get similar performance for a fraction of the cost what is the benefit to being cutting edge for the average user?
NOTE: I chose Project Fi with no input or incentive from Google. I paid for two phones and monthly service without any incentive from Google. I am not a pimp for Google. I am just trying to save some coin.