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Data Doctors: Using less data on the go

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Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at Readers may send questions to

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Posted: Friday, August 19, 2011 4:16 pm

Q: You recently ran a poll (on your Facebook page) of users as to their data usage on cell phones. What were the averages?

A: The recent changes by many cellular data providers to eliminate unlimited data plans for new customers has created a lot of concern, so we decided to poll our Facebook users to get a sense of just how much data the average user used.

Since most of the carriers are going to a 2 GB cap for their standard package, we wanted to see how many people would be impacted if they no longer had an unlimited plan.

While our poll was anything but scientific, we asked our Facebook community to post their current data usage with the billing cycle date or their previous month's usage so we could calculate some averages.

We had 95 responses, so we started by separating those that used more than 2 GB (17) from those that used less than 2 GB (78). This meant that 18% used more than 2 GB and 82 percent used less (the 80/20 rule rears it's head once again!)

The average usage for those that went over 2 GB was 5.4 GB while the average for those under 2 GB was just over 450mb (or only about 23 percent of a 2 GB cap).

What was even more interesting was that nearly three quarters of the users (70) consumed less than 1 GB, meaning that very few even came close to the 2 GB cap (only 4 people used between 1.5 and 2 GB of data).

Most of the users that went over 2 GB went way over, meaning that they likely used lots of streaming audio and video services during the month.

Another interesting number was that over 37 percent of those that were under would use less than 10 percent of the allocated bandwidth if they were on a 2 GB plan.

Those users could actually save money if they switched from an unlimited plan to one of the entry level plans (usually 250 GB of data) offered by some carriers.

Those that had high-bandwidth usage aren't necessarily consuming more or different kinds of content on the Internet than those with lower usage numbers. Streaming video is one of the fastest growing types of content on the Internet and virtually every mobile device these days can stream video.

How and where you stream online video (and audio for that matter) will have a huge impact on your cellular data usage.

For most of us, the primary places we use our mobile devices are at home and at work. In most cases, a Wi-Fi signal will be available to connect to, which saves you from using your cellular bandwidth.

If you pay attention to how you are connected before you start streaming video or audio, you can dramatically reduce your cellular data usage.

For those that travel, doing the same thing when you are on the road can be a big data saver as well. Connecting to a hotel's or coffee shop's free Wi-Fi before starting any data intensive activity is a good habit to get into.

If you find yourself without any Wi-Fi options but want to watch streaming video, look for lower resolution options to save data. YouTube videos can range from really basic to 1080 HD, so avoid the super high resolution choices when you aren't on Wi-Fi.

Netflix users also have an option to stream movies in lower resolutions in order to cut down on bandwidth usage (the 'Manage Video Quality' setting can be found in the "Your Account" section).

• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at

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