Data Cap Management Poses Challenges

We called it a long time ago, and now it’s a reality. Internet service providers (ISPs) are capping data, and it couldn’t happen at a worse time. As we continue to work and learn at home, use cloud-based services for application programs and data storage retrieval – and stream more entertainment, we’re set up to use more data. You’re going to need to look at data bytes like you look at calories on a menu.

We all know that calorie counts on a restaurant menu don’t tell the full story. The calorie count for a salad may be low, but dressing may raise the total through the roof. Knowing how much data you’ll use to watch a standard-definition movie on a device of any kind won’t really help you a whole lot in planning your data usage for a month. In reality, you’ll want that visual salad dressing – HD or 4K resolution – to enjoy the quality of the experience. A movie that requires 600 to 700 mbps to watch can easily balloon to 4 Gigs.

What’s really ugly about it is that most households or small businesses have multiple users on their internet plans. We’re still not going back to the office in droves in anytime soon, and the same is true for kids going back to school – although that will likely happen faster. If you have a business and have employees logging into your network from home, they’re using your data while logged into your system. They’re also using their own data to log in.

In addition to logging in to work from home, kids are logging in for classes, collaborating with classmates and doing research. That uses data.

Everyone, no matter where they are, is using cloud-based software to run applications and work with files. We’re all using data, too, for email, web browsing, social media and entertainment. That last item is a major source of data use for families that have cut the cable TV cord. The more people you have streaming different content, the faster your data usage can run up – and up.

We have no problem with that; it’s a reality. But we do have a problem with the ISPs’ lack of transparency in sharing our data usage. You can’t easily find how much data you’ve used during a billing cycle so that you can manage it. The ISPs make it easier for their big-business customers to know how much data they use. They don’t do it for small businesses or residential users.

If you don’t know how close you are to your limit or if you’ve exceeded it, you can be in for a surprise. Either your service will drop down to a slower speed, which is not cool during a business meeting or class, or you’ll wind up with an extra charge on your bill.

As the cable companies lose traditional cable TV subscribers, they need to make up for lost revenue by fine-tuning how they price their data plans. That’s fine. We knew they’d come to data caps. We just want them to be more transparent about telling us what the caps are, letting us know when we’re close and giving us realistic options for managing our caps.

Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have any questions about how to better manage your data use and monitoring at home or at the office.

Data-Plan Drains

We’ve talked about keeping your data usage in line with your plan to avoid expensive extra charges. It’s getting easier and easier to exceed your plan’s limits, and it’s going to get more expensive. Here are some data-plan drains you can easily plug.

Let’s start with the cloud. As much as we like the idea of being able to store all sorts of files in a place where you can get them from any computer and easily share for collaborative efforts, the cloud has its dark side. Companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google all encourage you to store work, music and picture/video files on a site so you can easily share them on mobile devices.

When those mobile devices are not connected to a Wi-Fi network, they use cellular data networks. And because we’re sharing these files more – or accessing music files on a cell phone or even from our car radios as we travel – we’re using a lot of data. If you have a 2-gigabyte-per-month data plan, you can drain it pretty fast.

You can prevent hefty charges by either limiting your data downloads or by increasing your plan’s limit. Either way, you still need to watch your data so you don’t drain your plan.

Little plug-in hot spots are becoming more popular, and they can be big drains on your plan. Again, you can download a lot of data when you’re using a cellular network. And if you invite a business associate or friend to use your hot spot while on a cellular network, guess whose data they’re downloading. That’s right – yours.  It won’t take long to drain your account and get hit with those extra charges.

Those 4G cellular networks can really sneak up on you, too. After Sandy, we drove to South Carolina and Florida. When we stopped our first night out, I turned on my laptop to work with a client. When I finished, I got a text message from my wireless carrier telling me I had already used 50 percent of my monthly data limit. It was only then that I realized my computer getting back into sync after being off for a few days. With a 4G connection, it took only 45 minutes to hit 2 gigs.

Fast Internet connections are readily available on cellular networks. You really need to monitor your use, but we know that can be difficult. As much as we dislike Microsoft’s Windows 8, it has a feature that can measure your usage when connected to a measured connection. You can also set your computer so that you don’t get any Windows updates when you’re on a wireless network. You will need Windows 8 – and upgrades are going $39 to $200.

Where can you get some help? You’re not likely to get it from the carriers. We see unlimited data plans going away as more people put more things in the cloud and access them more often. It makes good business sense for them, so being more vigilant makes good sense for you.

We can answer questions and offer advice on your particular data-plan and usage needs. Just call us at 973-433-6676 or email us.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.