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Data plan divvying up needs wisdom of Job (not Jobs)

October 9, 2012

Oct 3 column
By David Hughes

Have you seen the Sprint commercial where a “typical American family” is gathered around the table “discussing” how they are going to divvy up their cell phone provider’s “shared” data plan? It’s kind of like a mini United Nations where the smaller countries insist they have as much right to an area’s riches as the larger ones.
Perhaps Sprint was attempting to make the point that no matter how much data there is in the family bucket, each member feels their needs are superior. It’s supposed to be funny, I guess, and subliminally show potential customers Sprint’s unlimited data plan does away with all that bickering and promotes family harmony.
Full disclosure here: I am and have been a loyal Sprint customer for more than a decade – even before the advent of the new fancy phones. All three of us in the family utilize smart phones, with my son and I pretty much neck and neck in high usage. My wife not so much.
Both my son and I download video and listen to music, subscribe to several news sources and up until recently when we “upgraded” to the new Sprint EVO 4G LTE phones. They were on sale at Best Buy and were a decent deal. The only downer about the “upgrade” is the fact here in the DC area we don’t have LTE service yet, and the phones ones won’t work on the Clearwire 4G presently in place.
This means at the present time we are limited to sloooooowwwwwww 3G for data when we are away from home. However, most of our data consumption is at home through our home Wi-Fi system’s “N” protocol which is reasonably fast. Plus, that system is on my FIOS Internet service and as such offers unlimited data.
Getting back to that Sprint commercial …. Other carriers such as AT&T and Verizon offer what I consider to be a miserly allowance of data – especially if you use any data intensive service such as any video. Plus, they are already months ahead implementing their LTE systems which offers much faster data transfers.
Think about it – the faster you can get to web pages and other features and consume them, the faster and more often you will push that button for more data. In some ways it’s a lot like Pavlov’s response and instant gratification.
Statistics show families with teenagers and young adults consume much more data than most couples – depending on what the couple’s jobs entail. Receiving and sending e-mail doesn’t really need that much data, but if someone needs to send or receive an Excel spreadsheet and chart with a graphic – that’s a data whammy.
Have a sports fan in the family who wants to watch ESPN3 live video on the go? That all mounts up fast. And, the problem doesn’t manifest itself until it is ex post facto when the bill comes in.
Yes, it is possible to check during the month how much data is being used by everyone sharing the data, but what’s going to happen if mom or dad needs information toward the end of the month? How you gonna stop the kids from texting and sending photos to their friends?
Our smart phones are like the mythical sirens of old whose sweet voices tempted sailors onto the rocks of destruction. Families will go into debt one byte at a time.
How can consumers fight back? Well, you can vote with your feet and wallets. If your carrier doesn’t offer unlimited plans find one which will do so. Another method – which will NOT be popular with younger family members – is to go the pre-paid route on each phone. Just like a pay phone, once your nickel runs out, the phone shuts off. If you want to keep talking or texting it has to be recharged.
The downside to that might be the extended hands of your offspring along with tears or threats asking for phone money.
Plus, the service costs for some of these phones are more expensive than the “pay later” services.
Those of us with grey hair can remember when mobile phones first came out. The equipment cost thousands of dollars and it took a few bucks to make even a short call. Today’s cell TELEPHONE calls are not that expensive and to replace that cash cow communications companies soak customers on data.
So, the next time that Sprint commercial airs take the time to think about what they are trying to say. … is it REALLY possible to harmoniously divvy up your family data plan?

Apple goodies not restricted to the Cupertino Mafia
I was watching a television commercial the other day which was touting a “new feature of the iPhone 5,” allowing users to make panorama photos with one shot. Since I was/am a photographer the concept really intrigued me.
But, alas, I am one of the chosen people immune to the allure of i-anything phones in favor of Android. But, the video got me to thinking that since it was only a software app, perhaps there was a similar utility available for my device.
Sure enough, a quick search of the app store found several which fit the bill – all free. Within a few minutes I downloaded the app and was happily making my own nice panorama photos without having to bow down to the Apple God of Cupertino.

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