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How to monitor data usage on a smartphone

By Paul O’Reilly

Earlier this year, Verizon Wireless replaced its unlimited data plan with a variety of tiered options. The move to a tiered structure, while expected, left many customers anxious about 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?

Verizon now offers four different data tiers: $10 for 75MB (only available for basic phones, 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 5 percent of power users. And that makes sense – it’s the data hogs that are being asked to pay more, not the everyday user who sends a few e-mails, checks the weather, and downloads the odd game or two.

To give you an idea on usage, I am constantly downloading sports scores, news items, web pages, apps, and even the occasional video to my Droid Incredible. In the average month, I barely make it past 1GB of data usage, meaning the $30 2GB Verizon plan is more than enough for my needs. If you are still concerned about how much data you are likely to consume, then you can estimate your needs using Verizon’s handy Data Usage Calculator.

Once you decide on a plan, Verizon will help you stay within your limit by sending you free text message alerts when your data usage hits 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent of your monthly allowance. Customers who are registered with the My Verizon online management tool may also request e-mail alerts. If you have the My Verizon Mobile app, you can dial #DATA from your smartphone and get a read out of all your voice, text and data usage.

There are also a number of third-party solutions for monitoring data usage. If you have an iPhone, you can go to Settings, General, and then Usage. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on Cellular Usage. Here 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. For example, you can enter 2GB as your monthly quota and 3G Watchdog will then keep track of exactly how much data you use against that allowance. 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.

Whatever data plan you choose, be sure to monitor your usage. Data overages mount up quickly and can be expensive. A little oversight will mean you can use your smartphone to its full capabilities without worrying about any extra charges.

(Note - If you had a Verizon $30 unlimited data plan before Verizon moved to a tiered structure, then you will continue to enjoy an unlimited data plan, even if you upgrade to a new handset in the future.)

This article first appeared in Family Buzz, a VerizonInsider blog on the exciting and ever-expanding world of mobile technology.

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