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Lifestyles

September 24, 2011

Cellphone users need to start practicing safe smartphoning

So, cellphone user, what do you mostly use your phone for?

If you answered "talking to people," then you're in the minority.

Some time back in 2009, the amount of data used for phone calls on cell networks was surpassed by the amount of data used for things such as streaming radio and video, text messaging, email and other digital services.

That's why you don't see advertising ballyhooing how many "minutes" you can get on a cell plan any more. Talking _ minutes, if you will _ is not as important as it used to be.

What is important now is the amount of data you can use each month.

Which brings me to the point of this column.

And my rant.

Be aware of how much data you use. It matters now.

The big cell carriers have already ditched the "unlimited" data plans like hot potatoes. Once the first one did it, the rest of them didn't take long to follow. If you're not already grandfathered in, phoney don't play that game.

There's only one which still offers unlimited data, T-Mobile, and it may well be eaten up by AT&T soon, if the carriers get their way.

Surprisingly, the government has decided that it may not be in the interests of consumers for that game to play out. Imagine that. The cellphone industry folks trying to eliminate competition. They couldn't be doing that, could they?

So, for quite a while now cellphone companies have been selling devices that will do all kinds of nifty things using the Internet, for prices which are relatively cheap considering the functionality.

They've been getting everyone used to having unlimited data plans, or at least cheaper data plans, so that everyone would develop the habit of using data on their devices more or less with impunity.

Now, they're saying the party's over. We're going to charge you by the amount of data you use. And we're setting higher minimums for data plans, too. No more of this cheap stuff. Give us your dough.

It almost seems like some kind of a bait-and-switch tactic, or if not that, like a drug dealer announcing the end of the free samples.

Now that they have you, they're going to begin the squeezing. You're going to have a limit on the amount of kilo-mega-giga-bytes you can use, before they assess an overage charge. Kind of like missing your payment on a credit card and getting hit with a big fee.

Be mindful of how much data you're using. Want to listen to Pandora? Or stream a movie to your TV from your phone? Watch YouTube videos? All these things use lots of data.

Be especially careful if you use your phone as a wireless access point for a computer, this can use up data like crazy. Depending on what you download, files can be multi-gigabyte size very easily. You can use up a whole month's worth of cell data in one sitting, no problem.

I'm trying to drive home the point that smartphone users have to become more careful. Call it safe smartphoning if you will. Like so many other things in the world, things aren't always as they seem. Just be aware of what you, and your kids if you have them on a family plan, are doing.

The cell companies are beginning to play hardball. So we have to get a good mitt to catch what they throw at us.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@thedailystar.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.

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