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Comparing Mobile Plans
A Ting Approach

Chart - US mobile data use by pecentile

Whether by happenstance or by design, it is exceedingly difficult to fairly and accurately compare mobile plans. No two wireless providers seem to use the same math or the same nomenclature.

It becomes doubly difficult when trying to compare mobile data plans. What’s a megabyte worth? How many does one realistically need? Should we opt for the cheaper, smaller data plan and risk paying hefty overage charges should we exceed our allotment? Or should we go for the unlimited plan and, while we may end up overpaying for our underused mobile data connection, at least we overpay predictably.

Mobile Data Usage Averages:

Mobile data demands are steadily growing, yet the average user in Q1 2011 used 435MB of mobile data according to Nielsen. We paid, on average, $0.08 per megabyte in the same period, according to the research.

While the average cost per MB has predictably moved downward as usage has climbed, we’re still overpaying for mobile service, especially mobile data. The culprit is often unlimited or high-cap plans.

Chart - US mobile data use by percentileWhile the 99th percentile of smartphone users breached the 4GB mark for monthly smartphone data use in Q1 2011 and might benefit from such unlimited plans (that or a decent Wi-Fi network, just saying), even in the 90th percentile usage tops out at closer to 1GB in the same period.

When comparing mobile plans — and especially when comparing data plans — it’s important to get an idea of your actual use. If you’re already a mobile data user, that’s easy. Just look on your monthly bill or better yet, take an aggregate of your use from across a few bills.

If you’re not already on the mobile data train, think realistically about what you’re going to want to do with mobile data. If you want to watch YouTube videos all the way to and from the office every day then you’ll be in the aforementioned 99th percentile. If however, like most people, you want to check in with your friends on social media, send and receive email, read the day’s news and so on, your use will be closer to the average, using less than 500MB / mo..

Overestimating Mobile Use:

We tend to overestimate our mobile data needs which means we’re predisposed to overpay. The BillShrink study that is the basis for the CNET article linked earlier in this post suggests we’re also overestimating our voice and text message use. The average user estimates they chat for 711 wireless minutes per month where the average is more like 651. They estimate they use an average of 2,566 text messages where reality puts the number a full 1,000 fewer.

Rather than bundling minutes, text messages and megabytes together under a plan, Ting lets you pick the service levels that are right for you. In the Ting Control Panel, we let you take control of your use. If you want to cap the minute, text message or data use at a certain threshold, you can. What’s more, you can set different rules for different devices under your plan. If you exceed your estimated usage for the month, Ting bumps you up to the next service level. If you use less, we’ll drop you down and credit the difference on your next bill.

Given that no two mobile service providers seem to speak the same language, it’s nigh on impossible to fairly compare mobile plans. It’s especially difficult to compare mobile data plans. However, grab a couple of recent bills from your current service provider and try the Ting Calculator. That’s about the fairest comparison you’ll find and chances are, you’ll save money with Ting.