We’ve been with Sprint for about 15 years or so. Our plan has unlimited data, so we’ve never really paid much attention to what is considered “data” by the wireless carriers.

We’re not happy with Sprint and their “Smoke & Mirrors” plan changes so are considering a switch to a different carrier. For the same money we pay Sprint for access to their slow network (see the 2013 PC Mag Mobile Speed Test), we could be on AT&T or Verizon and get 3x the average speed over what we get from Sprint.

I’m real tempted to try out T-Mobile just because of the new “no contract” idea – no phone subsidies – an idea that needs to be embraced by all the carriers. I’ve always had a firm belief in the separation of hardware and carrier – let me buy my phone, whatever brand, from my choice of retail store or online site – and then choose the carrier I want to use.

I bought my last 2 phones outright, but still have to pay the same amount to Sprint – an amount that inherently contains $20-$30/month to cover the cost of a device subsidy that I obviously didn’t use.

But I’m off topic now – this is about what I think constitutes “mobile data” and there may be differences from one carrier to the other, but I’ve tried to compile a list of everything that can/is/could be considered data usage. Also note that this is Android flavored since that is what we use.

What’s NOT considered data

  • Phone Calls
  • SMS Text messages (without photos or videos)
  • MMS messages that contain photos or videos (depends on the carrier?)

What IS considered data (when not on a WiFi connection)

  • MMS messages that contain photos or videos (depends on the carrier?)
  • Web Browsing
  • Music Downloads
  • App Downloads
  • App Updates
  • OS Updates
  • Streaming Music or Video
  • Email
  • Data used by some Apps – like Google Maps or Navigation

Most of these are pretty obvious and some of these I just don’t use. I tend to side load my music from my PC so I don’t stream music, Most videos I would rather watch on my PC or TV, so except for a few YouTube views about something, I don’t do video streaming much.

One thing that does jump out to me is the “App Updates” – a lot of people download an app, use it for a while, then forget about it. But if the developer updates that app (some do this quite often) and you have “automatic updates” turned on – bam, that’s hits your data usage for an app that you have probably forgotten about.

If you are on a capped data plan, consider checking all the apps you have and decide if you still want them – and/or turn off automatic updates.

And use WiFi whenever possible – and if you are out on a public WiFi network, please don’t do things like access your bank account, credit cards accounts and the like.

If you know of other things that are considered data, please let me know in the comments.

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