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Are you overpaying for your data plan?

Validas

Chances are you aren't a data hog. So why pay like one for an unlimited data plan when you don't have to? If you're like me, you worry about getting stuck with overage charges, concerned that that one extra video will push you over your monthly limit. But odds are you're not a data oink, or even data piglet, but that you're among the majority of customers who use less than 200 megabytes a month. Chump change, in the data world.

A new study finds that 60 percent of wireless data customers used less than AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s minimum 200-megabyte data bracket allows — and that those low data usage rates were true for customers with other carriers, such as Sprint, that only offer an unlimited plan.

"Digging deeper, the impact of heavy-data users on average usage rates is profound; the (median data user) consumed just one quarter the data of the 'average' user," says Validas, which analyzes wireless rate plans for consumers and businesses. (BillShrink is another service that does the same, for free.)

Validas looked at more than 23,000 wireless bills between February 2010 and February 2011. The company says that 200 megabytes is "about half the average data user’s monthly data consumption across the four main wireless carriers. (Ranging from 345.8 MB for AT&T data users to 429.4 MB for T-Mobile data users, the exact average comes out to 391.9 MB.)

When we hear the words "200 MB plan," that's makes many of us freeze up and worry. "After all, if the averages are twice that 200 MB limit, wouldn’t most data users require one of the larger packages (up to 4GB on AT&T and up to 10GB on T-Mobile)?" Validas asks rhetorically. The answer is no; that 60 percent of data users are consuming less than 200 MB a month.

Validas

The discrepancy between average data "versus most people’s data consumption points to a data hog minority whose extremely heavy usage rockets up the overall average and inflates the apparent necessity of bigger data plans," Valida contends. "With around 60 percent of customers under the lowest tier of data, unlimited-only plans and 200 MB minimum plans might be considered unnecessary subscription, if not mandatory oversubscription."

How much data does 200 megabytes vs. 2 gigabytes translate to? For 200 MB, that's about 1,000 emails, viewing 400 Web pages, and 20 minutes of streaming video, estimates TechNewsDaily's Adam Hadhazy; 2 GB is about 10,000 emails, 4,000 Web pages and 200 minutes of streaming video. (That's a lot of YouTube watching while waiting at the doctor's office, for example, but it can and does happen.)

Validas says the imbalance "becomes even more striking when we look at the median data user’s consumption, not even close to the 200 MB minimum plan":

Validas

The graph shows that half of Verizon Wireless customers used less than 79.9 MB a month; half of AT&T data users "consumed less than 88 MB monthly; half of Sprint users consumed less than 93.4 MB monthly; and half of T-Mobile data users consumed less than 133.8 MB monthly.

"Average these median numbers together and we see that across all four carriers combined, half of data users consumed less than 98.8 MB monthly. When we compare this cross carrier median data figure of about 100 MB with the cross-carrier average data figure of about 400 MB (from the first “average data” graph above), we get a real sense of how much more data a few users at the top are consuming compared to the vast majority of the users at the middle and bottom — and how imbalanced the comparably low data usage of that majority is with the available heavy data plans."

Validas' point, whether you use their service or not: "Aggressively analyze your usage to prevent costly oversubscription. Yes, we’ve heard this time and time again, but think about it: Are you really one of the data hogs at the top dragging up the average or is your usage more typical?"

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