Best advice for dealing with Verizon iPhone data cap: trust but verify

Other carriers have had trouble counting packets; best to know how much data you really use

If you or your company use Verizon Wireless as a primary mobile carrier, you're going to want to remind people to type #DATA into their phones every once in a while.

Last Thursday Verizon Wireless dropped its $30/month unlimited data plan that became its compulsory standard plan for smartphones in January, just before it introduced its version of the iPhone.

The $30 plan was a big improvement over the skimpy $15-for-150MB/month version it ended at the same time.

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The new plan gives you 2GB/month for $30, which Verizon is trying to sweeten by offering to text you with warnings of when you're getting close to your limit, and providing ways to calculate ahead of time how much wireless data you'll use, and check on the fly how much of your quota you've eaten.

VZW also offers 5GB/month for $50 and 10GB for $80.

Texting #DATA to VZW will give you an instant update, as will going to MyVerizonWireless and looking at your account info.

The data usage calculator Verizon Wireless posted is a little more complete than you'd think. It does list networking tasks so generically it's impossible to accurately estimate your costs, which is what you'd expect.

The idiot-friendly interface features bright green sliders customer can move around to guess how much data would be involved in email, web access and streaming media.

As a way to do capacity or cost planning, the calculator is about a useful as a GPS that can help you navigate to Chicago, but is equally likely to drop you in Lake Michigan as at the gate of Wrigley Field.

But it acknowledges the myriad differences among devices, the ways customers use its network and vagaries of throughput- and connection-rates of radio-based networking by dividing all hardware being measured into three classes: all smartphones, all computers with a 3G mobile link, and all computers with 4G.

Checking your account online or by texting #DATA will give you and your users a more accurate read on how much data you use and how much extra you'll have to pay, if any.

They both depend on Verizon Wireless' ability to accurately measure how much data each individual customer's phone actually uses.

It should be no trick, considering the number of usage meters and traffic monitors all the wireless carriers built into their networks to make sure they could charge each other for every second of roaming connection from customers outside their normal calling areas.

That doesn't mean it will be accurate.

In March AT&T had to placate a lot of customers and mouthe a lot of insincerities to reassure people it was billing for data volumes that were as much as 4,700 percent off what the customers themselves measured at their router.

That was on a wired connection, though.

Wireless is much more predictable and controlled, isn't it?

Although AT&T was accused of overcharging by as much as 300 percent on its wireless as well.

That was AT&T, though. Not Verizon.

Verizon Wireless is famous for going out of its way to provide extra pricing services for customers; like setting up their phones so customers would be able to pocket-dial a data connection several times a day and be sure VZW could bill for it.

I'm sure there won't be any trouble with measuring data usage on wireless connections.

Just in case, you might want to check into your other options. Here is Consumer Reports' rundown. There are plenty of others online as well.

Just in case, though, you might want to look into apps that run on the phones themselves to count the packets that go in and out – rather than in your data center or Verizon's.

Just for laughs. Or verification. Whichever.

Here are a couple of examples:

Windows Mobile: SPB Wireless Monitor ($19.95) Android, iOS, Windows Mobile and most other things.

iPhone: Onavo (Free) DataManPro ($1.99) DataMan Lite (Free), BandWidth Pro ($1.99)

Android: 3G Traffic Monitor (Free), APNDroid (Free), NetCounter (Free)

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