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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 12/27/2013 | 12:42:39 PM
Teen trends Holiday gatherings are always a good time to learn from the younger mobile users what is cool and relevant to them, and also what their concerns are, since they tend to trickle up. The teens were all about QuizUp, my new favorite app. And most of the kids were (constantly) using OTT texting services rather than SMS. All had iPhones too. 
DOShea 12/27/2013 | 3:52:50 PM
Good resource You can't have enough good resources for app usage info in the data cap era, though I think this is probably best for someone who is really into micro-managing their apps and maximizing their cap limit to its absoluet ceiling without going over. I find the alert I get from Verizon that tells me if I'm close to my monthly cap is enough for me--I just start doing everything on WiFi at that point.
Sarah Thomas 12/27/2013 | 4:07:59 PM
Re: Good resource Yeah, text alerts are helpful too. I would think most app downloading is done over WiFi, so you really only care about the usage. Looking over the site would be a helpful starting point, but then apps that track your usage right on the handset are probably the most helpful.
DanJones 12/27/2013 | 4:30:17 PM
Re: Good resource I try and set my systems so that it knows to update/download over WIFi when possible.
Sarah Thomas 12/27/2013 | 4:31:56 PM
Re: Good resource Good point. That's even more important on the new iOS software now that it updates apps automatically.
KBode 12/28/2013 | 11:35:32 AM
Re: Good resource Yes I find that making sure updates happen over Wi-Fi is key. I'm managing four family members using Verizon Wireless's shared data plans and keep our allotment at around 4 GB. Only time we exceed that is vacations. I still think the tiers are designed so you'll pay more for peace of mind.

Still considering those T-Mobile options as soon as coverage here around NY State improves a bit.;
DanJones 12/29/2013 | 7:16:00 PM
Re: Good resource Would be nice to get more info from the carriers -- or at the system level -- about what's updating in the background.
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. 
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.
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.
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