TiPb Asks: Are you concerned with iPhone data caps?

TiPb Asks: Are you concerned with iPhone data caps?

AT&T transitioned to data caps and tiered plans just over a year ago and come this summer, Verizon will follow suit. Are you concerned? International iPhone users have had to deal with data caps and tiered plans for years, but in the US "unlimited data" was pretty much expected. It framed users' habits. Streaming internet radio, watching internet video, tethering on the down-low... You could do all of that without the slightest thought.

Many users are already and will remain "grandfathered" into "unlimited data", but if you want official tethering, you'll have to switch, or like we're seen with AT&T, be forcibly switched, to the new, capped and tiered plans. And then you have to start planning for limited data.

Netflix, in response to broadband caps, has started offering smaller sized streams to users worried about their data consumption.

Starting today, watching movies & TV shows in Canada will use 2/3 less data on average with minimal impact to video quality. For example, watching 30 hours of Netflix movies & TV shows will only use 9 GB of data, well below most Canadian ISP data caps. Previously, 30 hours from Netflix typically used 31 GB.

Skyfire has long made a web browser that proxies and compresses data.

A recently released Nielson poll showed that the average smartphone user watched 3.25 hours of mobile video each month in 2010. In a video data consumption test, Skyfire allowed the average user to watch 4.5 hours of video per month, while staying below the baseline 200 MB data cap. For this reason, the one-time purchase of a Skyfire mobile browser ($2.99) can save an average iOS or Android user from $120 to $240 annually in data charges. (This comparison is based on current AT&T and T-Mobile data plan pricing. Specific pricing for other carriers around the world will vary.)

Various audio apps will also let you download over Wi-Fi and store or cache podcasts, songs, audio books, etc. so you don't use data on the road.

How dependent have you become on "unlimited" data? Have you routinely hit 5GB, 10GB, or even more a month? What do you think about the new caps and tiers? Will they cause you to rethink or reduce your usage, or just shake your fists and keep streaming in data defiance?

Or have you never gotten near a data tier, only use a few meg

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 76 comments. Add yours.

kch50428 says:

I'll worry when Verizon takes away my unlimited data plan. :)

yoGuest says:

I'M att user and i want my unlimited data back. i use 7 or 8 gb a month

robclif4d says:

how did you lose it? phone upgrade?

yoGuest says:

I always had tmobile since my first iPhone 2G. but i soon the iPhone 4 came out, i switch carrier. i like and love att but also i love my iphone and about to give up and get me a nexus S with sprint. their price is amazing and that device is decent. (never will be like iPhone), but my phone bill is killing me.
also i will be able to surf and talk at the same time on 4G.

Jake says:

I hated when I lost my unlimited data plan. I need the data.

Joey Mendoza says:

did they make you give up your data plan?

Crunch says:

How did you come to lose your unlimited plan? Oh, and btw, you can get it back, if you get the right rep. Escalate to a supervisor if necessary, but unlike what AT&T wants you to believe, even regular reps. can and do add it back on for those who somehow lost it by switching to a lower plan, for example. The retention dept. is also your friend if you tell them you're thinking about canceling because of the data feature.

Pat says:

I have a combined data + tethering package on O2 Ireland which gives me 17GB to play with. On the device data side I would probably only use about 2GB a month on my iPhone, and I would consider myself a fairly heavy user.

Chad says:

I'm on Verizon and when I heard about the Tier data coming months ago I didn't really care because I'm 98% of the time always on wifi. Over the last year I looked at my data usage and the highest I've ever reached was 0.57GB

Bradley Porche says:

I am concerned because I am deaf and use Video Phone on the iPhone to communicate with my peers. It is sufficient to say that I am data hungry but the question is, "Is it justified to place a data cap on the usage that is used for primary communication by the deaf/hoh?"
On the other hand, the argument is..."Data is data, you pay for what you get."
What do you think?

ray says:

No. I am grandfathered with unlimited. However it just silly that we are capped so low with faster networks on the way. Start at 5 gigs and move from there. 2 is too little.

Homer Simpson says:

I'm grandfathered too. But I have a feeling AT&T and Verizon will come up with a sneaky way to get rid of the whole "grandfathered" thing. Then again, they do have me trapped know I won't leave because of this very thing. Interesting........

Ofonebloodband says:

How do you know if your grandfathered In I have had a unlimited data package for the last two to three years I just got an iPhone 3 months ago with my 2 every two year upgrade with Verizon and calling Verizon they never seem to know anything

Joey Mendoza says:

I still have unlimited but I am concerned. I guess I wouldn't care if my data cap was at 5gbs, at&t only give 2gb......seriously at&t that's putting your users back a few years.

Freedom5 says:

I'm at 6GB right now . .

Joey Mendoza says:

My friend couldn't afford his iPhone anymore so at the 3G he stopped service. He now stated his service a couple years later with an original iPhone and since it comes with unlimited data he was able to opt in to unlimited. So when the iPhone 5 comes out he will still have unlimited data with at&t

Hook Man says:

The workaround to get unlimited data on AT&T still works. I opened a new account in April and I have an unlimited data package for $30/month.

Hook Man says:

Activate an original iPhone on your line with a new SIM card to get on the unlimited data plan (a supervisor had to do this for me since the iTunes activation failed) then put the SIM in your current iPhone and the system will automatically switch you to an unlimited 3G plan.

stwesley says:

Very good article René,
For the near future am not concerned about data caps, I have unlimited and, there is no way in hell att is going to get me to switch from that., In the past, when I first got the iphone, I have used up to 8 gigs, then 6 in another month, (think that was just the iphone high) I was so happy to have the phone I was downloading every (FREE) App in sight and streaming all kinds of online radio station and videos.
Now my average data consumption per month is like less than 2.5 gigs but thats because I have my wifi on the iPhone all the time now, It not drain the battery as it did on the old iphone 3g, so when am home am on wifi, on the bus or the train am on wifi and at the job am on wifi.
I do believe that there are bigger issues here that alot of people seem to be missing.
1. I Glanced over this article here that read something about at&t was messing with different prices for their LTE/4G Speeds, this might be a sign of things to come, we all know that the bottom line is priority 1 for AT&T, what will happen to all the people who have unlimited data when the iPhone with 4G Speeds become available? do we think AT&T will just migrate all those users to that speed without charging something extra? or trying to force them somehow to switch from that unlimited plan? think about it. I totally agree with the saying (UNLIMITED DATA IS UNLIMITED DATA No matter the speed).

  1. When am not on 3g am on wifi (The only reason that I use wifi is because, its generally faster at my house and on my job) but at home there are now data caps, compliments of AT&T, it feels like we are being HERDED LIKE CATTLE, TO A PLACE WHERE THE INTERNET USAGE EVEN ON OUR MOBILE PHONES, ARE SERVILELY TOLLED. Data use is exploding! and It seems like alot of Apple's IOS 5, and iCloud features are dependent on DATA, and for those people who have limited data plans, I Feel your pain, but this is just a sign of things to come.
Eric Young says:

Why does TiPb assume that you will no longer be able to officially tether with a grandfathered unlimited plan from Verizon? Have you heard this from Verizon reps? Or are you assuming this because AT&T did it this way? I have read nothing about mobile hotspot on Verizon in this whole grandfathering in, one way or the other. AT&T didn't have official tethering prior to their tiered plans, so that precedent is different. I currently have mobile hotspot enabled on my iPhone, so if they are grandfathering in, I assume I would be grandfathered with that as well. What I'm wondering is whether I'll have to keep it forever, or risk losing it, or will I be able to turn it off and on as I do now? Or, will Verizon really say, sorry, you must be on a tiered plan to use it. I can't imagine they would do that, because it's not like tethering is unlimited — you only get 2gb for tethering. But then again, most of the stuff these guys do doesn't make sense, so who knows?

kch50428 says:

I think what Rene is referring to is jailbreaking on a tiered data plan and using one of the jailbreak apps to do so, and encountering the cap in a hurry that way - and not the pay to play feature, which is not really a part of your monthly plan, but an added feature code on your account.

Charlf says:

Wow i dont know why this is such a big issue I live in South Africa and im only given 110mb per month to use with my iphone 4 to get an extra 175mb will cost me another $20 ontop of the $54 per month I pay for 130 min talktime contract, I would dream to have 1gb per month I belive that is more than you would ever need to use on a device.

The Gadgeteur says:

Yes. Insanely overpriced and under-delivering data caps are the main reason I don't use most of what my iPhone can do when off of WiFi. Bells & whistles are only so great without usable data...

Chris says:

Nope. I'm on Sprint with their unlimited plan. With all their ads and Dan Hesse in his trench coat in Rockerfeller Center I don't see them getting rid of it (ads cost a lot of money kids!) and if they do I'd be grandfathered in anyway.
People go on and on about "oh just use wifi" well we shouldn't have to worry or cry over data caps. Just set it and forget it is what I believe. Besides how many of those wifi hotspots are "open" (not password protected) and how many are free? Besides Why should I have to dig though settings just to find an open wifi hotspot?

Crunch says:

Agreed. Having WiFi on all the time drains the battery to boot. Plus, WiFi is not as secure, so I set it and forget it to 3G-only anywhere and everywhere, very much including at my house where I consistently get 5Mbps down and 1.25 up. I'm not gonna have my iPhone causing my torrents to slow down.

MiracleMan says:

I've had my iPhone 4 for right at a year (my first one) and I've never reset my usage and it's reporting 4.4GB received data and .5GB sent data . . . in a year.
Now I'm grandfathered with an unlimited plan, which I like since I don't have to worry about it, but my usage is over the 100MB plan and well under the 2GB plan. I WiFi as much as it makes sense and I don't stream much.
But where I really worry is how all the providers run commercials for all their new devices pimping video and other high data services, yet they work to restrict our data more and more.
With a free market society where businesses are to compete, our data rates should be costing less and giving us more, but it seems that is going the wrong direction.

Crunch says:

WTF!?? Netflix has "adjusted the amount of data needed for streaming with minimal loss of quality?" How can video quality not be affected?
And to the extent to which they reduced it by is also highly suspicious. What now is 9GB was 31GB before? That's almost 3 1/2 times less data. Again, I didn't hear anything about any kind of breakthrough technology that makes virtually the same video quality available with between 3-4 times (not GB) times LESS content streamed?

Guest says:

But Netflix didn't say video quality will be unaffected. They said there will be "minimal loss of quality". How much quality loss is minimal loss? Users will be the judge.

Josh Hearne says:

I'm not grandfathered, I switched back from VZW last fall for the iPhone 4 and picked up the lowest minutes, unlimited texting and 2GB Data plan. After taxes and fees, I pay about $95/month. Cheap? No, but I'm able to have the convenience of doing 98% of what I can do at home on the go. The bad part? I only use about 50MB over the lowest tiered plan. My home, work and friends all have wifi to use so I only use data when I'm travelling or out on the town.
It doesn't bother me to not have unlimited, I don't need it. Shame data doesn't roll over like my minutes do, I'd have an ridiculous stockpile of data. I can also turn on tethering for when I'm travelling too, I had it on for a couple weeks this month and my bill only went up about $15 (was pro-rated). I don't mind the caps, everybody is different though.

Guest says:

"International iPhone users have had to deal with data caps and tiered plans for years, but in the US “unlimited data” was pretty much expected."
Rene, do you have sources to back up this claim? I live in Europe (Estonia) and I have used the same $8 unlimited data plan since the first iPhone came out and since then the network speeds (3G coverage) have increased but still no data caps to be expected.

Guest says:

An I agree that unlimited data plan is a must with the iPhone-like smartphone. Everyhting, from google maps to dozens of web service-based apps to iOS system notifications (and iCloud!) use data. How on earth you could count and plan for all that data flux to be framed in a data cap? Unlimited is a must.

Johnny says:

Concerned data users should consider using DataMan Pro to closely track and manage your data usage in real time. DataMan tracks your cellular data usage every 10 minutes in the background, giving you daily, weekly and monthly usage statistics. Plus, it warns you automatically in real-time when you exceed your custom usage thresholds. There's no delay in getting your latest data statistics.

Marcin says:

Its just where mobile phone companies mine their gold. Instead of actively limiting the transfer rate of somebody who reaches their data threshold, they charge you more for it. Lucky im still grandfathered. And i never plan to lose that.

Mark419ny says:

unlimited and grandfathered. i never ever use wi fi because i dont need to and i dont feel like changing my settings and i hate the pop up. second with wi fi on it disrupts my cell service. i loose on average 2 bars when wi fi comes on. third if i have a wifi connection then i have access to a computer why would i look at the iphones small screen. finally i want to use as much data as possible because I AM ENTITLED TO THATS WHAT I PAY FOR. these companies want to charge you tooth and nail for something i am going to use as much as possible every month but i can barely get over 2 gb a month and boy do i try.

niko360 says:

I live in the uk and I have just moved over to a unlimited data plan 2 month ago from a 1.5 gb data cap that was killing me.
Now that I have moved networks i'm getting full use of my phone.
My first month's data use was 7.2gb and that was light use.
I now pay £15 a month for unlimited data, 300 voice min's & 3000 text's.
This is on (payasyougo or prepaid) what ever you want to call it

niko360 says:

I also get 150mb of data a month to use before my unlimited data kick's in

SW says:

In Canada, I am with Telus and $30 gets me 6GB of data that I can tether on my iphone. For an additional $15, I get a second sim card that shares that data with my iPad. I don't typically stream video and my total data has only gone over 6GB once, but since I had 2 iphones on the plan, I had 12GB to share between all devices, so I wasn't charged any extra usage.

SW says:

As for data caps in Canada, Shaw cable recently changed their plans and INCREASED the data cap. I went from 100GB a month to 250GB a month with no increased fee (25Mbps download speed as well). They have an unlimited 100Mbps download speed plan for $134.90. You pay for it, but if you want unlimited, you can certainly pay for it. Fall 2011, for the same $134.90, they are bumping the speed to 250Mbps and unlimited. Enjoy the speed!

dloveprod says:

I have 4 gig with tethering plan, my highest usage has been 3 gigs and that's with me trying to get close to 4.

Roliver709 says:

I am on the 2gb plan and use about 3mb a month, ATT can we have a DATA ROLL OVER PLAN? I payed for it and if I go over you want me to pay more.

Raphael says:

I REALLY WANT TO GET MORE EXPOSURE ON THIS.
All these new plans are utter crap. If wireless carriers are no longer going to offer unlimited or more fair data plans, the FCC must demand that:

  1. people can opt out of data plans entirely, AND (not OR)
  2. carriers must offer family and group data plans.

Here are the facts:

  1. We already know that data plans are NOT part of the subsidized price of a smartphone. Yet, data plans are required for all smartphones. Yes, even if it's handed down to you.
  2. With technology always evolving, practically every phone will eventually become a smartphone. With that said, everyone will be forced into a data plan.
  3. Many devices have built-in Wi-Fi and more public places and even whole cities are becoming more covered and saturated with Wi-Fi hotspots, leaving less need for cellular data.
  4. Carriers have always cried about overburdened and abused cellular data usage. Yet, they won't let a smartphone user off from a data plan because it loses them guaranteed revenue. You can't have your cake and eat it too, bastards.

With prices going up and service going down, I'm more inclined NOT to want data 24/7 anymore. Seriously. Thanks, but no thanks - I don't need to be THAT connected.
I declare that we pitch this idea to the FCC and the FTC as the wireless carriers continue to unjustifiably squeeze money out of the customer. Thank goodness for Apple for the upcoming iMessage service. Don't even get me started on the SMS/MMS price plans that people have given up and given into.

Sandman619 says:

After reviewing the data consumption of both myself & a friend, we both opted out of the unlimited plan for the less expensive 200MB plan. While we have each gone over our data usage, once each, we only paid what we would have paid every month on the unlimited plan. So for about a year we've saved money. Was well worth the change
Cheers !

stwesley says:

But think about the fact that more and more apps on smart phone are becoming data intensive, so a from years from now you might even need data connection to play Angry birds. Your gona wish you had signed up for that unlimited data.

DiamondDNice says:

i'm concerned with anyone asking me to pay more money for stuff these days. Praying iphone comes to sprint.

Iiiweap0nxiii says:

I have a iPhone 4 on AT&T with unlimited. If I got Capp I would be so piss. Sprint iPhone might be the best way to go theses days. Everything about the iPhone uses data

Avenged110 says:

I'm stuck on the 200 MB plan on AT&T and it is hell. I can't afford to go up to $25 a month, but 200 MB is absolutely nothing. I can't really even do anything besides receive some email and check some Twitter. AT&T is rediculous that they cant even give you 500 MB. That would at least be acceptable.

Michael Group says:

I have unlimited on at&t and will keep it. I always go over 5 Gb. Somestmies go over 10 Gb. During lunch, I watch tv (via slingbox) for an hour. So that is 5x a week x 4 weeks = 20 hours a month. Not to mention I stream music via Tunein Radio or ooTunes during working hours and on weekends when doing errands and stuff.
Of course I would worry if I was capped. I would have to keep looking over my shoulder to make sure I didn't go over. Not fun at all.
Personally they should allow an automatic "shutoff" of data services when you meet the cap. Then you could call up if you wanted to extend for another 2 Gb or whatever. At least i wouldn't have to worry about going over (if i didn't have unlimited). That would be a useful feature.

Kay says:

UK user here, I was on an unlimited data package for 2 years then went on a 1 gb data cap contract when I took out the iPhone 4. I was really worried I'd go over the limit as my average usage was closer to 4 gb so also retained my old sim to see how things panned out. To my surprise I still used roughly the same data however my providers policy is to simply slow the speed of the connection after certain limits rather than charge, even so I can watch live tv without any issue at all!
In the end it was a lit of fuss and worry over nothing for me.

jafo818 says:

I'm on the grandfathered unlimited plan. I've never reset my usage and I'm at 13.9GB for the past two years. Using AT&T's online past usage reports, my highest data usage ever was 1.1GB. I've only ever hit 1GB three times. I use a variety of apps every day. I'd consider myself an "average" user. The cap is obviously meant for users who stream music 24x7 or watch a whole lot of streaming movies/TV. Those of you who use 5+ GB of data a month know that you aren't "average".

west3man says:

Please.
I'm not going to act like those of us who actually useour smartphones for all that they can do are somehow bad guys or data hogs. They tout all these features. We should be free to use them.
So I do. Hulu+, Netflix, Crackle, podcasts, etc.

Jcman7690 says:

It sucks, im grandfathered in on Att, but would really like to switch to verizon for iPhone 5. Voice on their network is like night and day to Att's. But with data Caps coming in July, and know iPhone 5 I'm stuck with Att if I want to continue to use unlimited data.

Really people.... says:

I have the 2gb plan but I usually keep my data around 300mb and thats a pretty heavy data usage month. It's pretty easy, use THE IPOD app instead of streaming music apps, people! You can put music on it. Even a few movies.

west3man says:

"It's really easy to use less dat, people...
Just use less data!"
You're a freakin' genius.

Chris says:

Expect many people want to discover NEW music.

Chris says:

p;lus movies take up a lot of space

Chris Zikopoulos says:

This post got me wondering about how I use my data. Being often jailbroken, I have recently gone the past week unjailbroken as I had to switch phones. Restored from fresh, just like out of the box. Within this week, it says that I have used a total of 8gb. No tethering, unjailbroken, and using just the web browser, i do not understand how this is possible. I certainly hope Verizon doesn't use this bug to its advantage and switches me. :/

Lui says:

Arghh, I want to switch to verizon for the next iPhone but want unlimited data for the future.........someone help me mastermind a plan!

Hahayou says:

Buy an iPhone 4 with Verizon sell it on craigslist and with that cash buy the new iPhone

Tyson Trogdon says:

Ha. I have the 2 GB plan with AT&T and never even come close to using it all. I keep my phone connected to my apartment's Wi-Fi, since it's about ten times faster than the 3G network.

stwesley says:

Your last paragraph is EXCATLY WHAT I DO

LzarEus says:

Grandfathered in as well and always routinely hit near 10GB a month. I'm using the phone to it's fullest potential and that's what it's for. I'm getting my moneys worth out of that $30/month plan that I've had since my iPhone 3G. Really hope they don't take the unlimited away because then I'll be forced to use some crap phone like something I left verizon for in the first place...the Bold 9000! Major mistake! Grabbed the iPhone 3G (which I didn't even care for at the time) and never looked back. Stay with me forever "unlimited" !

west3man says:

I'm on the unlimited AT&T plan and use the heck out of it - Hulu+, Netflix, Crackle, etc.
I'm sick of these carriers trying to screw us. AT&T got rid of their on/off unlimited plan shortly after the 3G iPad was introduced. They downgrade our steaming video to crap quality. Now I'm supposed to be worries that all the people they invited to join their network are too much for it?
It's all bullshyt.

Getalife says:

all this talk about data caps, big deal.. yes its a smartphone and yes it does video, email, web browsing etc.. but don't people have anything else better to do than to be on your phone all the time? geese... no wonder why the U.S is the dumbest country...

Chris says:

Sure.... your name says it all about you. Perhaps YOU should "get a life" and not worry about what others do. After all you signed up to post that comment. You sure don't have a life.

Iiiweap0nxiii says:

Funny thing is most people really think that Verizon is so much better than AT&T. Before iPhone came to AT&T, Apple approach Verizon first. ( google it ) Verizon turn it down because Apple wanted total control over the product. Which they got from AT&T. Now Verizon plans are more expansive after they got the iPhone 4. Wow

ThresholdApp says:

As mobile data usage raising rapidly, I am not sure how sustainable for carriers to keep the plan unlimited forever.
As for the consumers, the first issue is awareness. You can go check your data usage right in the settings but it is such a task to find it and you would easily forget about checking it on a regular bases. Let along it is not helping you know how much left for the month and alert you when your threshold is reached.
Another issue is the app provided by carriers delays the report. This is why we did Threshold at first place to help many people with this situation. Check it out at http://www.thresholdapp.com. We also recommend using mobile Opera browser which also compress your data and no registration needed.
We think 2011 is the start of the end of unlimited plan.

Darko Martić says:

There's a nice app called DataCounter (Cydia) with badge notification :)

Crunch says:

That doesn't just happen on VZW. I have a retention plan that was never advertised and only available for one month in 2006. I won't brag about what it is as nobody would believe me anyway. I do not understand why Verizon would not match AT&T's price for 2GB. They act like they have a better network or something outlandish like that. :D

Crunch says:

Latency is where Verizon shines I think. That's what sometimes makes VZW data appear to be faster, even when it's slower by a factor 5 (five). My latency has improved from around 280ms to around 200ms. I think that's still higher than Verizon's, though. Not sure about that.

Crunch says:

"TiPb Asks: Are you concerned with iPhone data caps?" - No.

Slim says:

I'm on the 3 UK network and nearly every network in the UK has data caps that used to include 3 UK. But that's changed as a few months ago 3 UK introduced their One Plan with truly unlimited data free tethering £35 a month for the iPhone on pay monthly which is a great deal. One good thing abot the UK xD

Kylemer says:

nope I never had unlimited, I've always had a 2GB plan with AT&T
It workks for me and when I go over i only have to pay $10 more per extra 1gb.