What Is a Data Plan?

Cell phone plan for internet connectivity

Man With Mobile Smart Phone

Maartje van Caspel / Getty Images

A data plan is part of the service that mobile operators offer to give you connectivity anywhere under the sky. It is called a data plan because, in contrast to the traditional GSM service which offers voice and simple text transmission only, it offers data transmission through an IP network and ultimately a connection to the Internet, where multimedia resources can be accessed.

The key word here is connectivity. You want to be able to access the Internet wherever you are, on your smartphone or another mobile device. A data plan involves getting you connected to a 3G, 4G, 5G, or LTE network.

Do I Need a Data Plan?

Who wouldn’t want to remain connected everywhere? Well, not everyone would, because it comes with a price which can often be beyond what you expect and what you prepare for. So, take some time to plan before getting signing a contract. You need a data plan if, for example,

  • You need to have constant access to your email while on the go, and that would be more likely in a business context;
  • You want to use VoIP extensively to make free and cheap voice and video calls, locally and internationally. This really helps in saving money, if used in the right conditions of course;
  • You need to have access to your social networking account (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) while on the move;
  • You need to be able to share text and multimedia files wherever you are. A fine example of this would be a reporter sending content back to the office or posting it online;
  • You are into cloud computing and have your content ‘up there’, which you need to access from anywhere;
  • You just can’t beat that need to play online games;
  • You forget to have music and video downloaded on your device before traveling, and so need to stream music and videos while on the move;
  • You just need to ‘feel connected’ whatever the price.

In many cases, people manage to get satisfaction with the Wi-Fi hotspot at home, at work or in the municipal garden, as they don’t need mobility everywhere.

What Does a Data Plan Cost?

The cost of data plans varies according to the amount of bandwidth you purchase monthly. It also depends on the deal you make when buying your smartphone, as most data plan service providers bundle their service with new devices, which are sold for much cheaper when sold in attachment with a one-year or two-year service engagement.

The average data plan costs around $25 per month, for a limit of 2 gigabytes a month. This counts for both up and down data. Beyond that, you pay around 10 cents for each additional megabyte that you use. Unlimited data per month would make you happy had it not been very expensive. This is why most people use limited data plans, in which the data you use beyond your data plan limit can amount to a big sum and cause prejudice to your budget. Planning is therefore quite important.

How Much Data per Month?

Typical packages for data plans are (as a matter of example) 200 MB, 1G, 2G, 4G and unlimited. The further the limit, the more your monthly charge is, but the more you move above, the lesser your cost per MB is. So as to avoid paying expensively for overdue data on the one hand and wasting unused data on the other, it is important to estimate your data usage per month. To help you with this, there are numerous data usage calculators online.

Data Plan Pre-Requisites

Before getting a data plan, you need to have what it takes to handle it, and this is something you need to add to the financial considerations related to it. Your smartphone, tablet or laptop computer needs to support the wireless protocol that carries the data plan. Your device at least needs to support 3G. For 4G, you need a smartphone. Your device also needs to be multimedia-ready and offer features for comfortable emailing. Low-end devices that just support 3G lack the juice for a great mobile Internet experience. An open system that allows installation of third-party apps is definitely an advantage, as those are often better than the native apps. Android is the most open of existing systems, but Apple machines are good too, with a lot of apps available for download.

Controlling Your Data Plan Usage

As mentioned above, you need to pay attention to how much data you are using if your data plan is not unlimited. Among the items, you will want to put on your list are the emails sent and received (because received data counts as well), with their eventual attachments, streaming music and video, the number of web pages viewed, social media usage, video conferencing and of course VoIP. Here is how you go about estimating your VoIP usage. There are numerous tools on the Internet that allow you to control and monitor your data usage, notifying you of thresholds passed and informing you on quantities used. Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, and Nokia have their apps from third-party developers.