Ed Albanesi: Cellular data for dummies

 By Ed Albanesi

We recently added a third cell phone to our family, which my daughter earned when her final report card was received. Between the carrot and the stick we have found that the carrot approach usually works better.

With the phone came a whole new set of challenges meaning I had to once again learn some things about the cyber world about which I has thus far remained blissfully ignorant. As a public service I’ll share some of these with readers.

Our family has a limited cellular data plan, which heretofore had given us access to all the data needed on a monthly basis. Never had a month gone by when we didn’t roll over some of the data in our 3 gigabyte plan. More about rollover in a minute.

Like most burgeoning teenagers, our daughter is quite fond of watching music videos on YouTube. One of the problems with the YouTube app on her phone is that it continues to play videos even after you move to another app.
When she’s connected to wifi this isn’t a problem, since cellular data is not being used. Usually that is.

After speaking with one of the few customer-oriented reps I could find at my cell phone company (you can guess which one it is), I learned that even a momentary loss of wifi might cause your phone to switch to (and remain on) data usage.

Brief blackouts are not uncommon in Florida and my cable/internet company (you can guess which one it is) ordinarily doesn’t need a blackout to effect a brief (or prolonged) loss of service.

Because I’m a cautious kind of guy, I began to regularly check data usage on the family cellular account by opening the provider app on my phone. In the two days following my daughter’s addition to our plan, my wife used 0.02 gigs of data, I used 0.01 gigs and my daughter gobbled up 0.7 gigs. At this rate, we’d be over our monthly data limit in less than a week.

I frantically called my cellular provider to figure out what happened since the data usage was recorded overnight when my daughter’s phone wasn’t being used (really) and also was connected to wifi.

It was then I learned that momentary wifi disconnects could put you back on cellular usage. Additionally I was told not having the phone plugged in and charging could also be an issue.

My discussion with the agent helped me to recollect the settings on cell phones you can modify that will help avoid some of these unpleasant data usage surprises. This information is worth the price of your time for reading this column.

Go to “settings” on your cell phone. Then punch “cellular”. The resulting screen will allow you to turn your cellular usage on or off. It will also allow you to turn cellular usage on or off for specific apps.

It is here you will also learn how much data each app has been using and it’s where I learned that an overactive YouTube app was eating up the family’s data plan on my daughter’s phone. On day three the default data setting for YouTube and Instagram on my daughter’s phone became “off.”

I would recommend you check the data usage for all the apps on your phones and make the default setting “off” for big users that aren’t used on a regular, daily basis. App data usage doesn’t need to be on when you’re connected to wifi and when you’re out and about it’s a simple process to turn it on when needed and off when you’re done.

Finally the dirty little secret about (my provider) rollover data, which many know but some do not. Rollover data disappears if you do not use it the following month. The only rollover data that is available in any given month is the amount below your contract data limit remaining from the previous month. The rollover from two months prior vanishes even if you do not use it.

Imagine you give your child a $5 allowance each week. If she only spends $3, then $2 rolls over to the following week and she has $7 to spend. If she spends $5 during that second week, she has reached her limit and nothing rolls over to the third week. At least that’s the way cellular data usage works. Sound fair?

Speaking of my cable company, I’m working a deal with them right now. Perhaps I’ll let you know how I make out in a future column. Knowledge is power and sometimes even my knowledge qualifies.

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