What’s driving your mobile data usage now and in the future?

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By John Pett, Chess ICT

Mobile phone data today is less about conventional mobile-to-mobile or to-landline calls and more about the myriad other services delivered via our “smart” devices. Whether used for home security apps, videos and music, social media or film and television programme streaming – our phones have become entertainment centres, devices for video and messaging communications and an essential part of the workplace toolbox.

All of these activities eat data. And with such extensive use of mobile data when Wi-Fi is not accessible, it pays to check your data usage regularly so that you know where your money is going.

Evolving usage

Research by professional services consultancy giant Deloitte points out there is a widening array of every-day or common applications that are being built for phone usage from paying for street parking, planning the best options for the journey home, booking a haircut, communicating with teachers or other parents, or renewing a library book.

Apps such as Office365, Basecamp, Mail Chimp, Trello and numerous collaborative, work-related platforms have apps that allow you, and your team to work on your phones so that you can carry on without the need for laptops. Need a proper keyboard rather than a virtual one? These can be added.

All of these applications connect via the Cloud – which means you’ll need to use wifi, or your mobile data to use them. And the more you use them, the more data you’ll need for your business.

Uses for our phones will continue to increase beyond what many could imagine. Today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s reality. It was not that long ago that video calls, such as those available through Skype and Facetime, were science fiction.

Who is to say that we might not in the distant future buy data from the likes of O2, EE and Vodafone to beam us up – Star Trek style? Don’t laugh! Before Graham Alexander Bell came along, you would have probably been locked up for suggesting people on opposite sides of the globe would one day be able to have a real-time conversation.

As mobile devices fast become control centres for every aspect of our lives – data consumption will continue to increase.

Haem Zeine, founder and CTO of Ossia, and a member for Forbes Technology Council, argues that the modern smartphone is “a metaphorical giant oak tree” of a technology the world had previously never seen before – a device that he says seemingly has no limits.

He suggests the evolution of artificial intelligence and machine learning could even turn our smartphones into “direct brain-machine interfaces”.

The more mobile phone services evolve, the more integrated they will become in our everyday lives from monitoring our blood pressure, heart rate and temperature, to helping the disabled navigate their environments better.

Knowledge is power

Almost every application that can be accessed via our mobile will need data.  It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where we’ll need less data rather than more, in the future. Understanding data usage will become increasingly important.  As will knowing exactly how much data you are consuming.

This is particularly useful for several reasons:

  • Knowledge is power and an awareness of the amount of data used helps make smart, informed decisions.
  • No one wants to find themselves short of data while on the train from London to Edinburgh where they are preparing a presentation to their board or to a client – unless they want to get fired.
  • But buying a lot more data than needed is money down the drain, although it is good to have a bit more than you need as an insurance policy.

It is a fine balance – who wants to be weighed down with draconian fees for exceeding data limits or suddenly find connection slows or becomes unusable?

Free comes with a caveat

An increasing number of public hotspots across the UK can be accessed for free whether on the London Underground or in coffee shops but the security of such connections is something that everyone should think about carefully.

Public hotspots are at considerable risk from hackers because no authentication is required to get a connection. These risks can be countered using a virtual private network, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections and by turning of “sharing”.

To use a laptop on the move – tether it to your mobile phone, using its 4G connection where available and, in the future, extremely fast mobile connections through 5G which are being trialled around the world.

Once you are using your laptop in this way, you’ll probably find yourself in work mode and, just like when you are in the office, you’ll stop considering the amount of data you are consuming. Therefore, it is advisable only to connect when you need to and avoid applications, like Dropbox, from continually syncing in the background. This can eat huge amounts of data very quickly!

How to keep tabs on the data you use

The amount of data you use can be easily monitored and controlled in your smart phone’s settings as follows: 

Apple devices

  • Enter your settings and then mobile data
  • You should see list of your apps with usage underneath each. At the bottom you will find usage for “system services” such as Siri, push notifications, software updates, backup and Apple ID services
  • You can “turn off” individual apps for when you are using mobile data by clicking on the switch next to each
  • Go to the Apple Store for data monitoring apps such as Data Usage, DataMan Pro and My Data Manager.

Android devices

  • Go to settings and then data usage
  • Look at the graph that shows your data usage over a set period
  • Adjust the coloured bars to set a warning when you are approaching a level you do not want to exceed
  • Set a limit to the amount of data you use
  • Look further down the screen to find your apps and the amount of data they use
  • Go to Google Play where you can find apps such as Data Monitor: Simple Net-Meter; GlassWire Data Usage Monitor and My Data Manager for even more control of the data you are using

Windows 10 mobiles

Windows 10 enables you to set data limit by

  • Tap settings/network & wireless/data usage and tap set limit
  • The displayed graphic gives an overview of data usage from the last 30 days split between SIM and Wi-Fi
  • Click on “set limit” to set data limit

Infrastructure

Public Wi-Fi, despite the security risks, has become the norm on public transport, in restaurants and bars and, even though it is often slow, it has led to an overall decrease in end-user paid-for data usage.

The UK is lagging behind with its telecoms infrastructure. Last year, it was only 54th in the world for 4G coverage, according a report from the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission, and people cannot access data fast enough for their needs. As a country, we are not keeping up with the fast-paced speed with which technology is changing.

The next few years should see a move towards faster connections. 5G promises to deliver data as much as 60 times faster than a 4G wireless connection.

Whether this will drive data usage in the future is still uncertain because the right infrastructure needs to be in place for it to be truly effective. Considering there are still many problems with our 4G connection, it is unlikely that 5G will drive data speeds up any time soon.

Fifty-six MPs sent a joint letter to digital secretary Matthew Hancock in May 2018 asking him to challenge the current speed and ambition of 4G coverage rollout in rural areas. Many rural (and some inner city) areas as mobile ‘not-spots’ – something that has to change if the economy is going to benefit from a digital future, and if UK businesses are to continue to compete on an international stage.

In the longer-term as 5G becomes the accepted norm and mobile connections (hopefully) become more consistent throughout the country, data usage and the need to buy more data will only increase.

Just as smart meters in our homes increasingly help us control the amount of energy we consumer, we will all need to ensure that none of us waste data.

John Pett is MD of the mobile division at Chess ICT

chessict.co.uk