Data vs Data – a cell phone conundrum

Everyone loves being on their phones and tablets. The iPhone and iPad have changed the way we interact with others. We can take our email on the go, FaceTime with our grandkids and even play a game on the train. Cellular companies have made it complex for us to get a plan now. Do you know if you need 1GB of data or 15GB? How much data are you actually using? Let’s not find out the hard way.

iPhone data
We all love the convenience that our mobile devices provide us. But recently, I ran into a situation with a client who was going away. When they came back there was a huge bill from their cell provider awaiting them.
“But I was on Wifi data!” they said. “Data is still data, whether it’s wifi or cellular. This bill shows you weren’t on wifi”, is my normal response. Many times people don’t realize what data is. So let’s first break it down.

Anything but voice phone calls uses data. Period. End of Story. IF you use FaceTime, that’s data. If you check sports scores, that’s data. Text messages to your spouse, that’s data! See where I’m going with this?

Here’s where you say – but Justin I pay for unlimited text messages why is that data? The answer lies in the color of your text messages. If you were to text someone you will notice that your conversation is either blue and grey, or green and grey. Green means it’s a text message. Blue, however, is iMessage, an Apple designed system that uses their servers to send your message. iMessages count as data, not text messages against your cellular provider.

So how do you keep your bill from going through the roof when you are away and using data at $15/mb (which is what AT&T charges if you are outside the US on their contract)? The answer is simple – turn off your data. Apple devices have what’s called Airplane mode. This will disable all the radios in your device. What’s nice about Airplane mode is you can then manually turn back on your Wifi – so only that is active. If you aren’t connected to a Wifi location – you won’t have service and hence no data usage. Now if you need to make a phone call you can simply turn off Airplane mode and make your call. I would suggest however that you set your e-mail checking to manual. Also quit all open apps you have.

When you are not 100% sure, just check the icons on the top of your screen. wifi data icon. See the wifi icon on? I’m safe. If it says any of the following: 1x, 3G, 4G, LTE, EVDO – you are on the cellular network so tread carefully.

If you are planning on going away, call your cellular provider and let them know. Most of them have international plans you can purchase to protect you from the dreaded $1000+ bill. Or better yet, call your provider and ask to have your phone unlocked. Then rent a SIM card in the country you are heading to and use that. While they may charge $15/day – it’s a lot cheaper than $15/MB!

Have a horror story with your cellular provider regarding data? Let us know in the comments below.

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