What is mobile data, anyway?

Tech news this week: Wi-Fi assist on iOS 9 beta

This post is a part of an ongoing series about mobile data usage. 

During October, we hosted a Data Horror Stories contest, where thousands of individuals who have previously been burned by their data plans submitted tales of past mobile-data-overage woes.

But, what exactly is mobile data? And, how can we understand it to avoid these data horror stories in the future?

Using iphone small


Mobile data keeps you connected on the go

Mobile data is one way that mobile device users can gain wireless access to the internet. Depending on how much you use the internet, and where, having a data-enabled device will give you the best of both worlds, giving  you on-the-go access to the information you need.

What’s the difference between Wi-Fi and mobile data?

Both Wi-Fi and mobile data do essentially the same thing, and work together to let you access the internet, anytime, anywhere. The primary difference for users is cost.

Smartphones and tablets connect to Wi-Fi through a wireless router – like the one you probably have installed at home, or the one at your local coffee shop that allows its customers free internet access. Wi-Fi only works within the range of its router, but it enables you to access data for no additional charge.

When you use data through your data plan, you can access the same content as you would on Wi-Fi, including all of your apps, games, emails, movies and more.  However it goes through your mobile carrier’s (such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile) network, and it subject to the terms of your data plan. The advantage is that, while Wi-Fi only works within the range of a router, with your data plan, you can access the internet on anywhere within range of a network signal. So, for example, if you’re traveling and need access to your maps app, your mobile data is what will help deliver  that app to you.

Mobile data is expensive

Mobile data, however, can get pretty pricey, as we saw from submissions in the Data Horror Stories contest. According to research by the International Telecommunication Union, the average phone plan with 500MB of data costs $85 in the United States, compared to $24.10 in China and $8.80 in the United Kingdom. And, this doesn’t include the surprising fees users can face if they exceed their monthly data plan (or access mobile data while roaming – ouch!).

In our next installment, we’ll discuss some of the most common data horror stories that are plaguing smartphone users.


User comments


You deserve a better browser

Opera's free VPN, Ad blocker, and Flow file sharing. Just a few of the must-have features built into Opera for faster, smoother and distraction-free browsing designed to improve your online experience.

Download now