You may know how to choose a voice plan, but what type of data plan do you need?
Mobile phones have been around long enough for people to know the ins and outs of a voice plan. By now, most of us realize what type of mobile phone user we are, how many minutes we're likely to use in a month, and we can pick an appropriate voice plan and realize the implications.
But what about the data plan? How much data are you likely to use with your BlackBerry? What are the factors that should contribute to this decision?
1.2.1. BlackBerry's Wireless Usage
One of the reasons BlackBerry has raced on the scene and become so popular is its "push" technology. Access to email from a mobile device has been around for quite a while, but it's always been a "pull" technology. That is, when you wanted to check your email on your mobile phone, you access a mail application and then poll your server to see if any new mail has arrived. This process is usually slow due to network latency and hardware of small devices.
Research In Motion (RIM), the company that makes the BlackBerry, stepped in and developed a push technology that delivers new emails to your mobile device. This allows you to set up alerts and even be proactively notified when you receive certain email messages [Hack #30].
While this approach to mobile email has been wildly successful, your device's data usage using this model will be far greater since you are not in control of when to use the data connection. This is analogous to accessing the Internet with broadband versus dial-up. Your BlackBerry is like broad-band it is on all the time.
1.2.2. Other Factors to Consider
If you know you'll be using your device with your company's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), your data usage could be significantly lower. Introduced with BES 4.0 is the BlackBerry Router, a piece of software that is designed to know at any given time the best (and cheapest) route to communicate to your device. When you're in the office and cradled, the BlackBerry Router can detect this condition and use the local IP network to send data to your device through the USB cable on your PC instead of "over the air."
This factor will become even more important when RIM produces a much anticipated GSM/WiFi device. This device will theoretically be able to determine the optimal connection depending on your proximity to an 802.11 WiFi hotspot. When in WiFi range, it will be able to "roam to WiFi" and communicate exclusively over its 802.11 adapter. Only when it's out of WiFi range will it use your carrier's GPRS data network. Your company's BlackBerry Router will be able to detect your connectivity and send data through the appropriate route.
1.2.3. The Case for the Unlimited Data Plan
Unless you have good reasons not to, you should go with an unlimited data plan. First of all, the price is typically not much more than the plans that are billed per megabyte (for example, at the time of this writing, Cingular's 4-MB plan was $34.99 a month versus $44.99 for their unlimited data plan). Second, because data is pushed to your device, you have little control over the amount of data that gets sent.
You get plenty of email as it is. Add to that the increasing amount of spam and "joe-jobs" that can occur and it won't take long to go over your monthly allotment. As an administrator who sets up jobs to alert via email, I've certainly been "spammed" by a job that went haywire.
As you discover the third-party software to download and install over the air, the multitude of sites that can be accessed via the BlackBerry Browser, and as the sheer volume of email continues to escalate, you'll be more comfortable with an unlimited data plan.
1.2.4. Do You Have to Have a Data Plan at All?
Actually, with most carriers, the data plan and the voice plan are optional. There are some users who use the device without a calling plan and use only the data features of the device. There are others (fewer, for sure) who use the BlackBerry as a phone without a data plan. The BlackBerry loses a significant amount of its usefulness when you don't have a voice plan and is certainly a lot less fun without a data plan. I won't even address the situation in which one has a BlackBerry device with no voice or data plan that's just silly.