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Cellular trends of the future: My "post-LTE" cellular usage = less voice, more data!

06 Jul 2013  |  Tags: , , , ,

I’ve omitted a few months of this year from the statistics below due to travel, but the pattern is clear: less voice + more data!Check out the following graph of the past 18 months of my cellular usage:

Graph of my cellular usage (text/sms, voice/talk, data/web) since January 2012

Interesting. A few notes about the figures:

  • My voice/talk usage includes mobile-to-mobile calling on AT&T, even though this is free and doesn’t use “minutes”. I did this for accuracy. I’m lucky since most of my frequent “on-the-go” quick calls are to other AT&T customers.
  • My data speeds were previously throttled by AT&T after exceeding 5GB of usage, but starting last month they haven’t been. Cool! This had made it difficult to use more than 5GB.
  • My SMS usage has dropped drastically since Apple introduced iMessage in 2011. As you can see, the green bars are basically just text messages to Android users. Because of this, I can easily get away with a “non-unlimited” SMS package. (which AT&T has since phased out due to iMessage….)

My “grandfathered” AT&T plan includes 450 minutes/month (5000 additional for nights+weekends), Unlimited LTE data, and 1000 SMS text messages. It costs about $80 USD each month. I have decent LTE coverage nearly everywhere I go, too.

Using less minutes by using VoIP

I have been using VoIP through LTE/Wi-Fi (VoIP = Voice-over-Internet-Protocol) to avoid squandering my cellphone minutes on hold-times and excessively long conversations. I generally do this while stationary in a single location to avoid switching connections. I also do this while traveling and using a foreign SIM card that has lots of data but minimal voice minutes.

The way I call over the Internet or using data is either with Gmail in my computer’s web browser, or via a Google Voice-compatible App installed on my iPhone. Unfortunately, the official “Google Voice” App for iPhone (from Google) doesn’t have native VoIP calling built-in for whatever reason, but there are alternatives.UPDATE 2013/10/18: Google's Hangouts” App for iOS now supports native VoIP calling over 3G/4G/LTE/Wi-Fi! It's free, too.

My favorite App for Google Voice calling on the iPhone is GV Mobile+ ($2.99 USD), which supports Google Voice over a 4G, LTE, or Wi-Fi connection. This consumes absolutely no cellular voice minutes at all to call, and only minimal data! The best part is, Google allows you to call any number in the USA/Canada for free! — An alternative App (which also interfaces the Google Voice service like “GV Mobile+”) is Talkatone, which is free but has a worse interface and distracting advertisements.

VoIP calling via Gmail’s website on the computer (using a web browser) was once very easy via its “Google Talk” chat integration. However, since Hangouts have been introduced to replace the old Google Talk, outbound calling is temporarily unavailable. (UPDATE 2012/07/09: it’s back!) — Inbound calling still works (via your Google Voice phone number if you have one setup), but to make outbound calls you’ll have to use a smartphone App as mentioned for now.

The Google Chrome web browser also has a Hangouts Extension that can be installed, which lets you receive incoming calls via your Google Voice number without needing to be logged into Gmail. Cool! Hopefully, it’ll also let you make outgoing calls again soon.

Using more data by listening to streaming music

As mentioned, the cellular data used by VoIP is minimal. Because of this, I’ve always wondered where my bandwidth was actually going. Luckily, iOS 7 for iPhone accurately monitors your data use and labels it for each individual App:

Cellular data bandwidth usage by App June 2013 in iOS 7 (iPhone)

As you can probably tell from this: I like music. — I’m usually streaming music whenever I’m not at home. The only other notable ”bandwidth consuming” activity is USB tethering for mobile internet on my laptop computer (not shown in the list of Apps above), but tethering still amounts to considerably less data use than mobile music streaming/syncing.

It is great to be able to go online anywhere using your laptop computer and cellphone’s internet! Bandwidth is bandwidth, and the principles behind “Net Neutrality" allow you to use that same bandwidth for whatever you’d like.

Previously, 3G and “4G” speeds limited how much one could download in a certain period of time, and therefore one’s data usage would be less. Now that LTE has been introduced and is becoming more widely available, its Wi-Fi-like internet speeds found in many markets (such as my own Boston and San Francisco) enable you to do a lot more within a given time period.

Unfortunately, shuffling through songs casually as they stream to your phone now uses considerably more bandwidth due to lower connection latency and higher data transfer rates. — When you switch songs, a new one begins downloading from Pandora, Spotify, iTunes Match, or whatever service you may be using. Even if you skip it, the amount of time that you’ve used to evaluate the song is the same, and therefore the amount of data you have used is greater due to the faster connection transferring more of said song to your device … even before you skip it. The convenience of being able to download more in less time ends up costing you more because the pipe can flow so much faster.

Conclusion

Wired bandwidth has become cheaper. The current cellular bottlenecks from everyone having an iPhone will eventually start to fade as network capacities improve.

For now, as the rate plans and billing levels adjust, I’m trying to be conservative on everything except for data in order to establish what my needs for the future are. — AT&T and other carriers are already pushing new “Data Share” plans that offer “unlimited everything except data” with this same philosophy in mind. It’s a great idea, but unfortunately too expensive given how little data you currently receive for the price. The old plans are still cheaper if you’re “grandfathered” in!

My hope is that increased competition from T-Mobile and Sprint (both of whom still offer unlimited data plans) will cause mobile-data prices to drop in the USA, and make things simpler for everyone.

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