Data plans for 3G - which is best for me?

With faster 3G networks, we are all looking forward to doing more surfing on our phones and thereby consuming more data! It appears from the trickle of 3G plans we have seen so far, that none of the operators are feeling very generous. Plans are stingy, the charges are an average of Re.1 per MB and therefore pretty expensive compared to both GPRS and broadband. So, which data plan would be best for you on 3G?

There are two ways to use the internet connection on your mobile - untethered (only on your phone) and tethered (using your phone as a modem for your laptop/netbook). Obviously, tethering will lead to significantly higher data consumption. Certain operator plans do not permit tethering - for instance my current GPRS plan is Rs.99 for 2GB but I cannot tether.

When you use your phone untethered, data consumption will tend to be low, as most sites and services are automatically optimised for your mobile. A lot of international norms are available to understand how much data you will use with 3G.

In July last year, AT&T had discontinued their $30 per month unlimited data plans for iPhone users, giving users an option of cheaper limited plans - 200 MB at $15 per month, or 2GB at $25. While a lot of people protested that unlimited plans were being scrapped, AT&T showed analysis data indicating that 65% consumers use less than 200 MB while 98% use less than 2 GB. Ars Technica staff put up their data usage graphs showing similar results.

iPhone data usage is a safe norm to use - iPhone users have long been considered the biggest data hogs, though Android phone users are worse, according to this data from Verizon, which shows that their smartphone customers consume an average of 420 MB per month vs. 338 MB consumed by AT&Ts iPhone customers.

Anyway, the point is that most of us, even with regular checking of email, Facebook, news sites, googling etc. will never cross 200 MB so we can safely go for the lowest tier 3G plan.  I think it would be interesting to monitor our own data consumption on different networks (GPRS, broadband, 3G) and understand our own consumption patterns. This might become a necessity as operators are keen to move away from unlimited plans and cap our data consumption. In the process, we might be paying more per MB, but we might still be able to save money if we know exactly how much (how little?) we really use.


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