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The Device Trap

When I was a kid in New Jersey, we were careful about having long telephone conversations with people in California because it was very expensive. Last summer, my wife and I thought nothing about calling our kids in New Jersey from our vacation in Australia because an Internet phone call was free.  We associate the Internet with free, but that can be a costly trap when streaming content over the ‘Net onto tablets and smartphones.

What used to be a mobile telephone is now a “connect from anywhere for anything” device. Besides talking on one, we use it for email, calendars, web browsing and a growing number of apps that allow us to buy coffee or whatever at Starbucks or turn off the lights in our homes from hundreds of miles away. Apps also allow us to watch a TV show, sporting event or movie on our device from any place with enough available bandwidth.

It’s all so cool that many people don’t pay attention to how many gigabytes of information they download for music and movies – in addition to browsing the web or checking email.

I’ll have a few words about email later in this article because it deserves a special look. But for now, let’s focus on streaming content.

If you have your device connected to a Wi-Fi network, it’s the same usage as sitting at a desktop computer. You’re not using a cellular network. However, as soon as you tap into that 4G network, your provider can see, measure and charge you for all the bandwidth you’re sucking out of the network.

Yet, our providers have conditioned most of us to use our devices. Voice (telephone conversations) and texting are low-cost, high-margin products for them to give you. So, it’s easy for you to buy hundreds of phone minutes and dozens, if not unlimited, text messages. It’s a natural extension of this conditioning to check football scores or breaking news stories, for example, and then watch the video highlights on a phone or tablet that’s connected to the mobile network.

Before you know it, you’re hit with overcharges, unless you’re one of those rare souls who monitor the use of each device on your plan. But that’s not the only function that eats bandwidth.

Remember email? With built-in cameras, we can take pictures or video with our smartphones and send them directly to family and friends. Have you looked at the size of those files? The iPhone default, just to make the point, is 2 megabytes – enough to print a huge enlargement of a picture you’re going to delete. That’s bandwidth. The videos of kids and pets doing cute things? Even more bandwidth. Those YouTube videos or feature movies? Major bandwidth.

Eventually the prices providers charge will come down as market forces and economies of scale kick in. In the meantime, there are things you can do and urge your friends and family to do to reduce bandwidth and move the cool stuff and data faster. You might want to pass these along.

  • Choose a smaller file size when emailing pictures. Unless somebody is looking to blow up a picture to hang on a wall, a small, lower-resolution file will look just fine on a tablet, laptop or smartphone screen.
  • Connect to a Wi-Fi network whenever possible. Just about every smartphone or tablet on the market today gives you the ability to seek a network connection. Make that connection whether it’s at a coffee shop, restaurant, supermarket, office building, home, airport or Amtrak network.
  • Be aware of bandwidth. Just as we did when we called “long distance” to California, realize that there are limits and costs and make the choice to use your bandwidth on your terms.
  •  Maximize your network’s power. There are many ways to make sure you get a strong-enough Internet connection to any part of your office or home. We covered that in our May newsletter article about routers.

We can upgrade your home or business network to reduce cellular network use. We also would be happy to do a lunch-and-learn at your business or speak before a group to show you ways to enjoy all the cool content out there without breaking the piggy bank.  Give us a call at 973-433-6676 or drop us an email to take the next step.

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