May 13 AT 11:42 AM Nick Sarafolean 24 Comments

How important is mobile data?


The Internet is the lifeblood of today’s world, coursing its way through a growing number of possessions. Without a doubt, the Internet has a number of uses, including the one that you’re using right now as you read this article. But the Internet is like a lockbox, and that lockbox requires a special type of key to open it. One that generally has a recurring cost to keep it open, and perhaps the key will only work for so long before it stops working. This key is called data access.

While data access can come in a few different ways, the method that deserves special attention is mobile data access. Mobile data is a topic that can garner plenty of attention within the technology blogosphere. Why? Because it affects all mobile technology with an Internet connection on the go. Usually it’s brought up with the intent of informing customers about new changes within data plans or perhaps what the next move from a carrier will be. But less frequently is it discussed in a broader sense–the aspect of its general importance.

Here’s the question: how important is mobile data to you?

My main impetus in bringing this question up is my recent switch to T-Mobile. While I’ve talked about switching to T-Mobile for months, possibly even years, it didn’t actually occur until just over a month ago. Why the delay? T-Mobile doesn’t have data coverage in my area. Yet, as time went on and I noticed my data usage becoming less and less, the issue became less of an issue. It carried on until the point that I decided there was no further point in waiting and I switched.

And you know what? I haven’t missed mobile data.

Okay, that’s not completely true. The first three or four days had a couple of moments when I went to check something while in the car or while shopping, and found myself unable to. After that, it was all smooth sailing. You see, I found that mobile data wasn’t nearly as important as I’d tricked myself into believing. With the prevalence of WiFi, Internet access can be found almost anywhere. Combine that with a little patience and you’re set.

I used to be a firm believer in mobile data. Unlimited data was one of my big must-haves when I first got into smartphones. It took me over two years to finally kick the can on unlimited data. It was after I realized that I’d only used my unlimited data on one occasion, every other time was simply average data usage. With that in mind, I switched to a shared data plan for the benefit of the family plan that I was on.

Really, shared data worked surprisingly well. The only problem was when we had a couple of overages, it caused a big ruckus of pointing fingers before we actually checked everyone’s usage. Continuing on the shared plan simply caused me to naturally tone down my data consumption. As time went on, I ended up at a data usage of about 150Mbs each month. Yes, that little. The craziest part? I didn’t even mind.

Over the years, I’ve had my frustrations with Verizon and I’ve long wanted to switch off to my own independent plan on either AT&T or T-Mobile. But with all of T-Mobile’s changes in the past year, the choice became clear that T-Mobile was the carrier for me. There was just one little snag in the plan. T-Mobile didn’t have data coverage in my area.

For a while, this kept me from switching. I didn’t think that I could live without mobile data. But in the end, I gave in and decided to give a shot with the result that I made a most miraculous discovery.

I didn’t miss mobile data.

Sure, there were a couple occasions where I could have used it, but those haven’t been replicated because they were easily solved with some simple planning ahead. Mobile data, I found, wasn’t really all too important to me.

The lack of mobile data has actually benefited me in a couple of different ways. Not only has it saved money on my bill, but it’s also helped me to plan ahead and to spend more time focusing on the world around me, rather than my phone. Without mobile data, I’m (for the most part) freed from the barrage of incoming notifications that I usually receive. Since dropping mobile data, I’ve found myself engaging in more and more conversation, rather than getting absorbed into the digital world contained within my phone. It’s been a refreshing change that I haven’t regretted.

Now I’d like to turn the question to you. How important is mobile data to you? Is it something that you can’t live without? Have you ever tried to live without it for any length of time? If you haven’t, I urge you to try it. By the end, you might even find that you like it!

A nerd at heart, Nick is an average person who has a passion for all things electronic. When not spending his time writing about the latest gadgets, Nick enjoys reading, dabbling in photography, and experimenting with anything and everything coffee. Should you wish to know more about him, you can follow him on Twitter @nsarafolean.

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  • Jess Blanchard

    I don’t think there is any way I could get by without mobile data. I have to respond to work issues on-the-go a lot. It sure would be nice to save that dolla dolla, tho.

    • Arthur

      Yeah, unless you don’t rely on anything tech which you would be hard to come across a person like that today under the age of 60? It really isn’t doable. At work I hardly use my phone but on the go when not at home or work, not having mobile data is like leaving home without your wallet.

  • Nigel

    For the last 16 months I’ve been on a data plan with 2GB-3GB of 3G data capacity, and I’ve used it as much as I liked, I pretty much had coverage everywhere I wanted it and I found I was using on average 150MB/month. The reason is when I wanted data it was checking email, Facebook, looking up a web page, navigation, and of those uploading a video I had just made was the biggest consumer. Some months I might do some media streaming and those went above average.

    I find SPEED and allowed data CAPACITY is much less important than coverage, i.e. can connect and get moderate speeds everywhere matters more than having high speed.

    If I have time to kill and only have my phone with me, I keep on internal storage some mp4 to view, and in fact I scripted my laptop to recode in background the HD videos down in size and so get 300MB/hour in good quality so the 4GB-ish free storage space is plenty of video stored.

    When on Wifi I focus on watching online-only content and only then watch mp4 local content.

    I’ve been hovering over buying an LTE-capable phone but I been ok with the ~1Mbit I average on 3G.

    If I’m traveling for long I have a tablet with 32GB storage and a 64GB OTG USB stick, I’ve added up that’s rather a lot of poor/no network coverage time really then don’t have a concern about. Add a 5000mah slimline USB battery pack to double-or-more my battery time and that’s a lot of theoretical issues solved.

  • SGB101

    It’s nice when I need it, but that not often.

    4g is still expensive over 3g, and offers very little when you consider I can get a good 3meg on 3g and it’s unlimited (I’ve had 19gb once home BB down).

    Having teens i do spend a good amount of time waiting outside of concerts, and on the od occasion I’ve ran out of pre downloaded media, Xbmc (project free tv) has performed well over 3g in both Liverpool and Manchester.

  • Gregory Paige

    Are you insane?

    I can’t even fathom the idea of having a smartphone with no mobile data.

    I think you’re an idiot and I rarely ever take time to comment on things but this is ridiculous.

    • jake

      Hate to be insulting, but I agree with this poster above. Currently at 13GB of data halfway through this month. Sometimes I’m less than 2GB, others I’m over 10GB. One month I had about 40GB. I will never give up unlimited data.

      To take you premise further, maybe you’d be better off without a smartphone at all. Then you could do even more planning.

      • Guest

        What do you use all that for. Sorry to tell you but the carriers will force you to give up unlimited data at some point.

        Just so folks know, Straight Talk Wireless just increased the data on their 45$ plan to 3gb high speed. Ive got ATT LTE from them ; pretty good deal. I’m not watching movies in the car…I dont know how people use that much data unless that’s what they’re doing. Web use, email, GPS, even some music streaming doesnt

  • Rob R

    I am on a grandfathered, truly unlimited data plan for my family with Verizon. That includes 4 LTE smartphones, and 1 “dumbphone” for a senior citizen. So, with 5 lines and after the corporate discount through my employer, I pay exactly $300 US for 1400 voice minutes and unlimited texts along with the aforementioned unlimited data (including an “official” tethering option on my phone to go along with that data plan). I don’t think it is a great deal, but I alone will use in excess of 20GB of data a month alone because my employer has incredibly restrictive internet use policies and I absolutely refuse to allow ANYONE to dictate to me how and when I access the internet.

    I am an IT pro by trade, and so for me a connection without limitation is absolutely essential. Essential as in just about as important as air to breathe.

    Of course I wish that it were less expensive, but it is all about coverage and performance to me. Based on my extensive testing in my immediate area, that equals Verizon. Shint and T-Miserable just can’t compete on coverage in general, and especially on in-building penetration. AT&T is merely a fallback if it came to that, but they throttle after 5GB…

    • Bernt

      You just described me to the letter. I’m in exactly the same situation, carrier, plan, etc. It’s a hard habit to break.

  • J

    Wifi isn’t around my office, so I use my data a lot

  • kevintexas956

    I have two different carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile, both technically unlimited data (T-Mobile 4G up to 5GB, then down to 2G).

    On T-Mobile I never even get to 3GB,ever. Sprint I average about 4-5GB monthly, only because I’m traveling and have to tether,never can tolerate the Wi-Fi speeds at hotels or friend’s home.

    Leaving in the next hour for Mexico, where I actually stay for long weeks and months. I have to deal with no data plan in Mexico because it’s either expensive or poor quality.

    So yes I can go without data, but only if there’s real good Wi-Fi consistently available.

  • Grayson

    I am a heavy use of mobile data as well. I am connected to our Wi-Fi at work, 10+ hours a day and also connected at home. I still used 10.7 gb of mobile data over the last month. I’m shocked that someone who writes articles about mobile related news can get by with less that 10gb, much less 150mb. You need a new career field, like national geographic, seeking out remote and rare bird species or something.

  • rashad360

    Mobile data is indispensable. When I am out and about, my phone is like a personal assistant letting me know what restaurants are around me, helping me check the amazon price on something I am considering buying in store, all sorts of things. I am not constantly on the phone when I am out but I like the feeling that I am within arms reach of anything I need to know.

    The speeds don’t mean much to me, all I want is a reliable 5Mbps or so.

    To put it in perspective, I use less than a GB of data a month (I’m almost always on wifi at home)

    • clocinnorcal

      That’s me. I’d rather be caught with than without, and don’t consume much data compared to others commenting here. But, like you, I consistently check for nearby deals or offers and constantly Google random things.

  • Perry

    Can you live without mobile data. Yes you can, life doesn’t depend on it. But the question should be is your life easier without mobile data than with it? And honestly the answer is a resounding NO.

    Without mobile data your phone is back to the old flip phone. No apps. Forget finding a pizza shop on yelp. No weather forecast on weather bug. Email? No way. No mobile shopping on amazon. Can’t deposit that check with the phones camera. The list goes on and on.

    Mobile data and the capabilities that come with apps that use that data is what has made the smartphone the invaluable tool that it is. Why would you not want to make your life easier and more productive?

  • Eli Gaffke

    I couldn’t imagine not having data on my smartphone. Like another commenter said, you might as well have a flip phone. I realize lots of places have Wi-Fi, but personally I don’t feel like screwing around trying to log in to the Wi-Fi at Target just so I can voice search movie times, or compare prices.

    I also don’t have home internet and rooted my phones so I can tether. I average 30 gigs on my line and my wife around 10. During this winter with the months where I was snowed in I hit 70 gigs on my line catching up on Netflix. Plus when I am places with my friends who have Sprint I can be the Wi-Fi.

  • someonesim

    I cant live without data, as I constantly surfing web during commute. However I once thought I need huge data quota but for my passed years experience, I only utilize less than quarter of my 2GB plan. As long as I got get fast reliable 3G or 4G connection, it’s more than enough.

  • anonymous

    Ok, I have to ask: is there ANYTHING you guys at PhoneDog like? Seriously, *ANYTHING*?!? There obviously is a requirement for anyone working there that you must hate what other people like: phablets (a SERIOUS no-no at PhoneDog, apparently), bezels (or was it lack of, I’m still not sure?), and now mobile data.

    Seriously, if it wasn’t for TmoNews, I’d never visit a PhoneDog web site ever again.

  • anonymous

    I forgot to mention that, other than perhaps TmoNews, PhoneDog just repackages other people’s stories–like those guys that keep uploading the same youtube video over and over or re-tweeting the same press release over and over. The only original thing they can come up with is how much they hate everything in tech despite being a tech web site. Pathetic.

  • renyo

    Well I have lived in parts of the world where internet is not as important or urgent as it is in the US… The plans cost way more than it does in the US, i.e. when you compare it to the living standards of the place… So people have made do without it… Basically one needing internet on the go is a luxury one has gotten used to… Just as much as you cannot go back to a dumb phone after using a smart one, similarly it is difficult to leave the world of internet on the go once you have tasted it, no matter how expensive it gets…

  • Albin

    Some users will need it professionally and can expense it. I’m personally on pay/go with reasonable local calls, with roaming and data available at ridiculously high rates. I’ve found I rarely voice call and have never used data – but like having it available for some unforeseen contingency. Between SMS, wifi Skype and internet, with decent offline mapping and navigation, there’s little use for either voice or data. The device would be a fairly useful gadget without any SIM card at all.

  • Alex Simon

    I hardly use my mobile data, I’m using less then 100mb of data per month right now. However, I do use and have Wifi and I’m using like 40GB+ per month on it.

  • TruFactz

    I think mines is more so speed convenience. like if im downloading an app that’s like 2 GB, and I need that speed but don’t feel like hanging around Wi-Fi to do so, yeah then mobile data becomes important. theres even times where my mobile data is faster than peoples Wi-Fi, and even my own and I have Comcast.

  • tetracycloide

    Data is essential. Hardly a month goes by I don’t use more than 2 gigs. Speed is less of a factor than I thought it would be when I switched away from t-mobile and AT&T (who have LTE in my area) for Ting (a Sprint reseller that doesn’t have LTE). After a few months I’m liking that I get signal in more places more than having better peak bandwidth speeds. Couldn’t possibly live without mobile data at all though.