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CTIA Site Dispels Mobile Data Mysteries

Most smartphone users have little to no idea how much data they're using each month. This fact was reiterated to me over the holidays when my boyfriend's family of six welcomed another iPhone into the family plan, and negotiated data usage.

The kids debated which apps actually use data, how much apps left running in the background consume, and how they could limit their usage. In past months, they found that even without careful monitoring, they never came close their data cap of 4GB thanks to their home WiFi network, but the addition of a new smartphone user was making everyone nervous.

I tell this Christmas tale because it shows how data remains a mystery to most, something you only become acutely aware of when you start to rack up overages. That's why it's good to see the CTIA attempting to make it more clear with its announcement Thursday of KnowMyApp.org, a web site designed to inform consumers how much data their favorite apps use before they find out the hard way.

Currently, the site includes the top 50 paid and free apps from Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), and it spells out how the app was tested and how much data it used when downloaded, at initialization, during active run time, and during background time. It also shows how the app impacts data plans and offers suggestions on how users can minimize their usage.

CTIA built the site along with its Application Data Usage Working Group, which includes phone makers like Apple, vendors like Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), the big four US carriers, and chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM). Intertek Group plc developed the mobile app data usage benchmark testing using AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s Application Resource Optimizer, an open-source diagnostic tool that analyzes network app data.

The site should be helpful for consumers who want to take the time to research and understand how apps affect their plans, but it's also a good tool for developers that want to build more data cap-friendly and battery-friendly apps. That will become increasingly important if consumers decide to limit their usage -- or not download an app -- based on how it affects their service plans and devices. (See Survey: Mobile Data Caps Matter.)

I bet most would be surprised to hear how much data their favorite apps eat up --and it's not just mobile video streaming either. For example, KnowMyApp.org says that Google Maps (the subject of debate on our five-hour car trip home) used for one day on a Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) iPhone 4S -- defined as three sessions of its different features -- would use up 31% of a 1GB data plan. That's pretty significant, especially since there is limited WiFi to help you on the road.

I'm not sure if the CTIA's new site will influence app downloads, but it will certainly give family members more ammo in their monthly data battles. Either way, it's good the operators are giving their customers insight into data-hungry apps to complement those services that provide insight after those apps are used.

Overages just aren't a good business for anyone.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Sarah Thomas 1/3/2014 | 10:54:43 AM
Re: Good resource Thanks for the feedback, Scott. 10GB seems like a lot to me, but if you are using it to replace home broadband, then it makes sense you come so close. I also agree that the CTIA site isn't granular enough. In conjunction with some of the other data-tracking apps out there, including from the operators, it might be more helpful.

I also agree that the apps makers themselves, like YouTube, could help add some clarity with their apps. 
ScottEStewart0101 1/3/2014 | 10:41:05 AM
Re: Good resource Hi Sarah, 


I have a 10Gb mobile share plan, with just my hotspot, and iphone. While I've never gone over, I'm constantly checking my usage. Mainly to make sure I don't let AT&T get free money and that I juse up atleast 90% each month. 

Without using youtube or streaming, the 10Gb plan works fine. I oddload alot onto public wifi when able, and I typically listen to either podcasts or iTunes Radio. (which itunes radio uses lots of data, nearly 100Mb an hour due to 256kb streaming on HSPA+/LTE)

Btw, I live in rural Kentucky, which the only option is mobile data. there is no cable or DSL services. 

regarding the CTIA site, I don't really trust it. It's not giving real life scenarios. What it needs is a calculator for each program, so each user can specifically select their device, and calculate the time of use they estimate. 

This is my big problem with YouTube or streaming video. There is no size detail on how much data it requires to stream videos to my devices on mobile plans. Yet, Google and other video services are pushing 4K streaming? This is amajor problem. 

PS edit: this site needs spell checker for comments :-D

Also: every time the kids connect to my mifi, they want to watch youtube. It'd be great if hotspot software allowed me to block youtube from the mifi device at the router level. o.O
DanJones 12/31/2013 | 2:13:28 PM
Re: Good resource So is Hotspot 2.0 going to help fix the bill shock by moving us to WiFi more smoothly next year, or not?
DanJones 12/30/2013 | 4:45:23 PM
Re: Good resource Nah, I'm on T-Mobile. I probably fluctuate a lot based on travel etc. as well.
Sarah Thomas 12/30/2013 | 4:40:38 PM
Re: Good resource Wow, I know a lot of families who don't even get up there! What data plan are you on? Ever had any overages?
DanJones 12/30/2013 | 4:20:48 PM
Re: Good resource Last time I checked I was at the 4GB-5GB a month mark.
Sarah Thomas 12/30/2013 | 11:45:03 AM
Re: Good resource I actually have no idea how much data I use every month. I'm on a corporate plan, so not sure I can check it easily, but I'll look into it. I'm not sure how our company is set up and if they do data sharing with other devices on the network. I haven't gotten in trouble yet at least!
DOShea 12/30/2013 | 11:08:21 AM
Re: Good resource I don't travel much, but subscribe to way too many fantasy football/basketball/baseball apps, and tend to go back and forth between them while on long dog walks, watching video clips confirming whatever terrible roster mistakes I make in a given week.
MarkC73 12/30/2013 | 12:22:36 AM
Re: Good resource I guess I need to travel more, I'm always way below my 5GB limit, I think most places I frequently hangout I'm either not using my phone (need two hands to eat and drink!) or I've got my wifi already setup.  I think most of the data usage comes from my email syncing and random things I do while waiting for my lunch.
Sarah Thomas 12/29/2013 | 7:52:00 PM
Re: Good resource Yeah, good point -- I wonder how many people buy larger plans for peace of mind then never check their usage to see if that's smart. I bet a lot of people would be surprised by how little they actually use. 

For those that get close to their limits, I imagine their family plans for data are like SMS plans were when I was on the family plan. I'd use around 200 text messages compared to my parents 4. I'm sure there are data wars in some families now. 
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