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How to track data usage on your smartphone

By TheTechDad

Verizon Wireless recently replaced its unlimited data plan with a variety of tiered options. The move by Verizon left Sprint as the last major carrier to offer customers a truly unlimited data plan. (T-Mobile offers an unlimited data option but reduces data transfer speeds once you go over an agreed limit.)

The move to a tiered structure, while expected, added to existing customer anxiety over what constitutes an appropriate data plan. Although we have a good idea of how many minutes of talk time we use each month, how many people know the difference between 2GB and 5GB when it comes to the amount of data we consume?

The first hint comes in the structure of the plans themselves. Verizon is offering four different data tiers: $10 for 75MB (only available for “feature” phones, i.e. not smartphones); $30 for 2GB per month; $50 for 5GB; and $80 for 10GB.

The fact that the previous unlimited plan price of $30 now applies to the 2GB tier is more than a coincidence. Studies suggest that 2GB of data is enough to accommodate everyone except the top 3 or 4 percent of power users. And that makes sense – it’s the data hogs that Verizon is trying to catch, not the everyday user that sends a few e-mails, checks the weather, and downloads the odd game or two.

However, if you want to monitor your data use more closely, you can. iPhone users have a built-in data usage monitor. Just go to Settings, General, and then Usage. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and under Cellular Network Data you will see cumulative numbers for the amount of data both sent and received. If you want to know how much you use in a normal month, then click on Reset Statistics and monitor the usage going forward.

Android smartphone users don’t have a built-in app but you can download an app from the Android Market. 3G Watchdog is one of the best – and it’s free. When you first install the app, it will ask you to input your plan. Enter 1GB as your monthly quota and 3G Watchdog will then keep track of exactly how much data you use against that quota. The app sits in the Notifications bar at the top of the screen and turns from green to orange to red as you approach and pass your monthly limit.

To give you an idea, I am a fairly heavy data user, constantly downloading sports scores, news items, other web pages, apps, and even the occasional video to my Droid Incredible. After 30 days, I barely made it to 1GB of data usage, meaning the $30 2GB Verizon plan is more than enough for my needs.

As a last resort, you can even look at your monthly bill, but anyone with multiple phones and a family plan will need a cold towel and a strong drink before embarking on that exercise! As an alternative, take 5 minutes and visit your local carrier. They won’t give you the strong drink but they will have all the answers you need.

(Update: If you are an existing Verizon customer with a $30 unlimited plan, you will be grandfathered into the new arrangements, even if you upgrade to a new handset in the future.)

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