back to article Hate data fees but love your HD slab? Here's a better way to pay for bytes

A gigabyte is 1,073,741,824 bytes. Computer science tells us this is so. It's 10243 bytes. Except when it's not. Apple, in common with virtually everyone else pushing systems, treats a gig as 1,000,000,000 bytes for users of Macs, iPhones and iPads; simpler for consumers, but the difference is almost seven per cent. When this …


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  1. psychonaut

    Or uh just use wifi. There we go. Solved. How pointless would you have to be to be in the middle of nowhere and in desperate need of an hd film?

    1. Gordon 11

      Or uh just use wifi.

      It's not just he middle of nowhere that has no Wifi.

      There are many ways to avoid streaming an HD film in real time over a phone link.

      Why not download things in advance onto your phone/slab and leave them there for a "rainy day"?

      Or take a book...

      And believe that you don't have to have it now just because you feel like it - use some restraint.

      1. ammabamma

        It is my duty to report you to the Ministry of Love, MPAA/RIAA division

        > Why not download things in advance onto your phone/slab and leave them there for a "rainy day"?

        What's this?

        Download the files for off-line usage instead of meekly using the streaming services our lords and masters have deigned to bless us with?! You have the galling temerity to even suggest this? What are you, some sort of thieving freetard pirate?

        Officer! Officer! I wish to report a thoughcrime!

        1. APA

          Re: It is my duty to report you to the Ministry of Love, MPAA/RIAA division

          It could be a DRMed download. My old Nokia used to do this with the BBC iPlayer. I don't understand why we can't still do it now with. That was a really useful feature.

          1. Richard Taylor 2

            Re: It is my duty to report you to the Ministry of Love, MPAA/RIAA division

            iPlayer on a number of platforms still allows you to do this. Only for video rather than radio though which requires a little workaround

        2. Great Bu

          Officer! Officer! I wish to report a thoughcrime!

          You realise, of course, that the desire to report a thought crime is, in itself, a thought crime.......

      2. P. Lee

        > use some restraint.

        Haha! Vendors telling customers not to buy their stuff!

        Oh, and the other option (download beforehand) also makes me laugh. In the new economic order you aren't allowed to possess, only receive a transient licensed stream.

        Also, where are they getting their 1.2Gb films from? ;)

    2. Metrognome

      Even going by example cited in the article, do you know of many places that offer sufficient speeds for a HD download?

      Most terminals (airports, train stations, ports) have dreadful speeds.

      The only shiny exception in my experience are Zurich, Dubai and London City airports.

    3. miknik

      Enter Amazon, stage right

      Should Amazon's oft rumoured foray into mobile ever emerge from vapourware I can envisage them shaking up this market somewhat.

      They already have agreements with many telcos in order to offer Whispernet to Kindle users for content delivery, I can only imagine they would extend this for other smartphone friendly media like HD video.

      For a real game changer they might even offer a worldwide data allowance to Amazon mobile users instead of this £8/MB when roaming nonsense you get now... With enough global telco agreements already in place I'm sure it's not beyond the realms of possibility.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just a feather in the wind

    Did you really expect Moile operators to cooperate? When they are not even giving correct usage statistics to consumers OR Roaming charge gouging issues.

    Turekys should and WILL vote for Christmas, eh !

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Just a feather in the wind

      I'm surprised it isn't a legislative requirement to send alerts at 80% and 100% of your allowances

  3. Chris Miller

    Historically, data transmission rates were measured in decimal rather than binary. Gigabit Ethernet is 109bps not 230bps.

    My data usage reported by Android is within ~1% of that reported by my networks (3 and O2). It even cunningly keeps track of usage on different networks when I switch* SIMs.

    * Top tip: 3 PAYG packages charge the same rates when roaming in some European countries as in the UK (marketed as 'Feel at home'). This saved me a lot of money on a recent trip to Italy. Though I'm still trying to work out what to do with the 3,000 texts included in my £10 bundle.

    1. LaeMing


      Gigabyte (Megabyte, kilobyte, petabyte, etc.) is decimal.

      Gigibyte (Megibyte, kilibyte, petibyte, etc) is binary. Short form is GiB (MiB, kiB, PiB, etc).

      These things do happen to be (long-ago) formally defined for those who can be bothered to know their trade!

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: Yes

        You're right of course, LaeMing. But how many people do you know that refer to gibibyte (note spelling), other than marketing departments in the small print ?

        1. Lusty

          Re: Yes

          "But how many people do you know that refer to gibibyte"

          Actually the majority of enterprise storage vendors now differentiate between GiB and GB in their toolsets. Well Dell, HP and NetApp certainly do. The ones who are not playing ball are the OS vendors who are the only ones who could fix it. When you buy a hard drive of 1TB from a vendor, Windows should call it 931GiB so that morons would stop moaning about "formatting losses" and then articles like this would not be needed in the future.

      2. Fuzz

        Re: Yes

        gibi, mibi, kibi, pibi

        It's the first letter of the decimal form plus ibi

        megi, kili, peti would be confusing because they sound too much like the 10th power equivialants

      3. plrndl

        Re: Yes @ LaeMing

        "Gigibyte (Megibyte, kilibyte, petibyte, etc) is binary. Short form is GiB (MiB, kiB, PiB, etc).

        These things do happen to be (long-ago) formally defined for those who can be bothered to know their trade!"

        I challenge you to show us where these are formally defined.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      3 PAYG packages

      3 annoys me enormously. The PAYG SIM that works in my phone won't work in my tablet because it "isn't intended for that". Yet I pay exactly the same per byte wherever it is plugged in.

      At least I now understand why people would buy tablet sized phones. Being expected to pay £10 per month whether or not I use the allowance just because it is a tablet rather than a phone strikes me as an abusive relationship between me and the supplier.

      And the stupid thing? Put the SIM in my spare phone and mobile hotspot works.

    3. Ian 55

      what to do with the 3,000 texts

      Get a teenager...

  4. Cornholio

    Some do

    I have my Nokia from Utility Warehouse. I can visit their website to view my usage (to mmidnight previous day), and it always seems to agree with that measured by the phone.

    Oh, and they send me an SMS if I'm getting near my limit.

  5. Steve Renouf

    Unlimited limit!?!

    I'm still trying to work out how, if there is a limit on my unlimited Data and Texts and Calls, they can get away with calling it unlimited!?! I must admit though, I haven't managed to hit any of the limits yet and I can set up alerts myself for different percentages of the data usage online. (JT)

    1. Cliff

      Re: Unlimited limit!?!

      I know for the 3 package I have there is a limit of 1TB for mobile data, including tethering, and never get even close to my several thousand texts/minutes. I'm not really bothered by making calls and only really text the Mrs (although she can get through thousands in a month even on a crappy T9 predictive keyboard - no idea how she does it).

      1TB is as close to unlimited as to make no difference in a month. I never normally make it past 60GB even with violent streaming! I don't p2p though. Means no need for home broadband any more...

      1. Shades

        Re: Unlimited limit!?!

        Cliff wrote:

        "I never normally make it past 60GB"
        Never normally, so you do occasionally? What are you downloading to (ocassionally) bust 60GB a month on a mobile network? Thats a hell of a lot of Linux ISOs on a imprecisely locatable, potentially untraceable network connection! ;)

  6. Robert Heffernan

    Advertising Too

    This is also an issue I have with Advertising on the Internet. Why do I have to pay to view an advertisment? Ads of any kind take data to download and last time I checked, a meg of mobile data came with a complementary ass raping from the mobile provider in relation to the price. If advertisers paid for that bandwidth I would have no issue viewing the ads. Until then I will continue blocking the ads on my mobile

  7. alansingfield

    Marketing 101

    It's a market segmentation thing. Customers will sign up for the biggest data plan that they think they can afford, because the consequence of being "fined" for going over the cap is dire. Even when they often use nowhere near the allowance.

    There's almost no downside for the telco billing this way:

    1. Customers are paying as much as they are willing to pay, every single month.

    2. If they use more data than agreed, they can rake in big bucks. (think international roaming)

    3. Customers are "scared" to use all their allowance, in case they go over the limit: the telco doesn't need to actually provide all the bandwidth they have sold.

    No telco would ever produce a plan where if you use less than the agreed amount of data, you get money back.

    If customers had an accurate record of how much they used they would drop down onto a lower GB allowance once they realised how little they were using.

  8. WhizzMan

    Net Neutrality prohibits this and for a good reason. This way, providers would be in the business of selling movies to consumers and would have an unfair advantage to other parties selling the same movies on the internet.

    The true solution would be to not have data plans but unlimited access, like in most countries with a truly competitive market. Carriers are carriers and should stick to that. Their business is to provide connectivity and not worry about what goes over that connection.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      This is why the Net Neutrality idea is a problem: The consumer won't get the movie.

      Their business is to provide connectivity and not worry about what goes over that connection.

      QoS aspects are part and parcel of connectivity. Pretending this isn't so does not help.

      1. P. Lee

        > QoS aspects are part and parcel of connectivity.

        True, but the solution is for QoS to be applied per protocol not per vendor. Stupid vendors try to stick everything over http and mess everything up, but that's their problem.

        Vendors also like to stream without caching in the name of DRM. That's dumb too.

  9. Sheep!

    Get unlimited

    I'm with 3 and my data plan is unlimited. The only barrier to other's going on the unlimited plan is cost or lack of usage. My girlfriend didn't opt for unlimited because she doesn't really do much online with her phone (whereas I use mine as a portable hot spot) and so pays half as much. However, if she were to start paying £7 a time to watch movies on top of her data plan she would soon overtake my cost for unlimited so while I get the point they are striving to make, it's surely unworkable because it would have to be such an infrequent usage I can't see the business model there to support it, not to mention most phones/slabs have enough storage for you to always have a few things available to watch on them anyway.

  10. Nate Amsden Silver badge

    reasonable overage fees

    One of the things I like about AT&T wireless (after having been on Sprint for a decade) other than the better coverage and much faster network - is the overage fees of $10 per GB is pretty much exactly in line with the base rate on data packages. To me that is verrrrrrry reasonable(honestly was expecting more like $50-100+/GB given the overage fee stories I have read in the past), and in line with your proposal for special fees($10 for 1GB) -- except here there's no fancy billing needed it is all automatic and it applies to any data.

    They did "force" me to get a 3GB data plan once I signed up for Mifi support(before that I was on 1GB). But that's not too bad, it's still cheaper than I used to pay for a standalone Mifi on Sprint. The unlimited 4G WiMax coverage was so poor(rarely saw more than 25% signal strength even in well populated areas) that I usually just forced the Mifi to use 3G(which often got 75%+ strength which made it much faster than 4G -- though still *much* slower than HSPA+ on AT&T - so basically 4G gave me 2G speeds). Using Sprint's Mifi in 3G speeds had a 5GB data cap from what I recall at the time (not sure what overage fees were).

    I almost exclusively use the Mifi on my phone for traveling as hotel wifi seems almost universally unusable in my experience at least for working remotely with things like SSH where lower network latency is all that keeps my fist from going through my laptop's screen.

    I do miss Sprint's "unlimited" data to a certain extent - though data access was so slow it wasn't all that useful anyway.

  11. chipxtreme

    Like Sheep! above i'm also on 3 which offers unlimited data and tethering. I don't need to bother checking how much data i'm using and so far have experienced the fastest network speeds on 3 compared to any other provider.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crowd funding can come to the rescue

    Crowd funded satellite/national data network with a community maintenance rate in a non-profit organisation. That is what I would like to see.

    I'm pretty sure telcos sits on fat margins and government never does enough to clamp it down, which is strange because data networks now-a-days are should be on-par or in some situations more important than roads.

    It should really be provided by the government rather than privatised monopolistic protective telcos.

    1. regorama

      Re: Crowd funding can come to the rescue

      Spectrum is our enemy - controlled by Govt agencies and not very socialist in their practice to allow Crowd Funded Services.

  14. Barry Rueger

    Two problems actually

    Oh Canada! Where the current MINIMUM plan that comes with new phone costs $70 a month, and includes - hold on! - 250 megabytes of data. If you want more than that you'll wind up paying a nice round $100 a month.

    OK, so we get robbed blind by the monopolistic triumvirate that runs Canada's cel networks. I accept that.

    The real problem is apps that refuse to let you limit their use to WIFI.

    Our local library has been flogging the Overdrive app for e-books and audio books, and I was using it on my Android phone for the latter. It's actually one of the worst apps I've encountered on almost every level, but I like our library, support them, and where a good option exists, actually try to obtain media legally.

    Because I am not independently wealthy I had specifically set Overdrive to only download via WIFI.

    Last month Overdrive updated their app to add some flashy but generally useless swipey junk. And REMOVED the WIFI only setting. And removed the control that let you pause a download in progress.

    The next time I went to download a new audiobook the damned thing gobbled up a month's worth of data in a couple of hours.

    So Overdrive, I'm gone back to using Pirate Bay for audio books. Better selection, faster and easier downloads, and they don't expire after two weeks.

    1. M Gale

      Re: Two problems actually

      Mobiwol, for when you really need to tell an app to Fuck Off. Find the entry for Overdrive, hit the mobile data icon to firewall it out, and problem solved.

      No root required either, which is nice.

    2. NBCanuck

      Re: Two problems actually

      "Oh Canada! Where the current MINIMUM plan that comes with new phone costs $70 a month, and includes - hold on! - 250 megabytes of data. If you want more than that you'll wind up paying a nice round $100 a month."

      Hmmm...I'm currently paying $45 for a plan with Koodo (subsidiary of Telus) and for that I get:

      Texts: unlimited texting (in/out and includes international)

      Phone: unlimited nights and weekends (nights start at 5pm), unlimited incoming calls, and 400 anytime minutes (which I will never use since I work days)

      Data: 1GB (additional is at $5/250MB)

      If you watch for sales you can usually switch and save, but you have to care enough to actually check. The deal I got at the time was double minutes/double data.

      Also, if you are paying the $70 it is because of the hidden charge for the phone. My provider has options when you get a phone - you may have to pay some up front, but you can put the bulk on a tab and 15% of you bill goes to paying off the tab. You always know where you stand because it shows on your bill ever month. Want to put more on the tab so you pay less up front? Ok, then get a larger tab and pay an extra $5 a month to pay it off within 2 years. There are a number of providers in Canada who do this now.

  15. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Net Neutrality

    This argument is what's used when telcos (who are also studios) say that Net Neutrality is bad. It's a way to say, "Our videos cost $10, preferred provider videos cost $20, and everyone else charges $5 but you'll have another $50 in bandwidth fees." It's designed to put competing content creators out of business while charging customers extra for something that costs nothing extra to provide.

    Anyone who's spending a huge amount of money on high bandwidth plans to avoid scary overage fees needs to look at other providers. There are other telcos that can provide the simplicity of a contract for normal usage and provide pay-as-you-go for exceptional usage. You could save $30 a month for the 11 months a year that you don't need a massive data plan.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    what was I going to say.

    Oh yes... most carriers used to define your download byte-count as the number of bytes that their equipment tried to send to your device, irrespective of whether any of those bytes actually arrived at your device.

    The only thing I don't recall about the practice (as it was at that time) is where the number was measured...either at their POP or at the cell tower.

  17. Malcolm Weir

    Charles Brett is flat out wrong in his first paragraph, and @Chris Miller's observation (above) that "most people" don't refer to Gibibytes isn't actually relevant.

    I submit that "most people" are correct in their belief that a megabyte is a million bytes and a gigabyte is a billion of them. The fact that "computer science" (at least, according to Charles Brett) seems to think that an integer power of two is a better definition is not relevant (nor correct, come to that).

    The reason for the absolute lack of relevance is that the same companies that are pricing data plans in megabytes (and confusing poor Charles Brett into thinking they're actually talking about Mebibytes) ALSO talk about data rates. And while the data storage industry got lazy and conflate mega- and mebi-, the data communications never did: modems came in 300, 1200, 9600, 14400, 28800, 33600, 56000 bits per second, with the higher rate ones being (correctly) referred to as 14.4k, 28.8k, 33.6k, 56k bits per second. And a T1 line runs at 1.544mbits per second, meaning 1,544,000 bits per second.

    So if your carrier (as mine does) offers 3GB of data before dropping the data rate from "3G/4G to 2G speeds" (i.e. from about 21Mbps to about 56Kbps), you need a distorted mind to interpret the "GB" as binary and the "Mb/Kb" as decimal.

    Anyway, the rest of the article is doing nothing more than pointing out the bleeding obvious, namely that either the supplier or the consumer could pay for the "freight" costs. Simple examples include the WiFi service offered by many airlines: accessing the airline's website is frequently free, and accessing some content providers likewise, but general internet access requires payment. Another example can be found in Amazon's Whispernet for Kindle: buy from Amazon, and you get the content delivered for free.

  18. ecofeco Silver badge

    Simplicity and ease of use?

    Overall good ideas, great ideas, in fact, but the whole point of current plans is to purposely confuse the users so they DO go over their allotment and have to pay extra at premium rates.

    Has anyone ever wondered why carriers' phone don't have a built in overage warning?

    1. P. Lee

      Re: Simplicity and ease of use?

      Actually Telstra do send out warnings by text when you approach your data limit.

      I'd like to see the same applied to calls.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Once the NSA have scaled their ability to handle a whole populations always on data plans this problem will go away. The operators will get the green light, unlimited plans will be handed out / injected at birth, and you can then be tracked doing everything everywhere all of the time.

    Watching "They Live" again? Does he know?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Current data prices

    The current data allowances for different UK providers are simply derisory in most cases; the lower end tariffs look more like they exist to frighten consumers into taking higher tariffs rather than serious offerings. Unlike call minutes, the disparity in allowances across the board for the same price points also perhaps suggest a lack of genuine competition - is it really credible that provider A really expects you to spend the same as you would to get 4 times the allowance from provider B, all else being roughly equal?

    With the exception of Three, all other UK networks appear to be now offering us unusable numbers of minutes in the hope we don't notice they really really don't want to up data allowances to credible amounts, wearily stating in press release after press release that customers don't want more data and aren't even using what they have. Is it so surprising that anyone paying attention so studiously stays well within the limit when overrun pricing is so bloody punitive?

    Flogging me a ten quid movie on demand at the airport without touching my allowance just doesn't cut it, I'm afraid. Broadband ISPs tried the same whiny, wailing number about bandwidth years ago while trying to pitch themselves as natural shopfronts for media services. They comprehensively lost the bandwidth argument and the world didn't implode; mobile networks are going to have to face the same reality eventually, and if they wont go voluntarily even our provider-biased regulator will be forced to stick some genuine competition down their necks eventually.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Telstra Do It

    1. I like Amdocs' approach - they've some smart thinking, something Israeli's seem great at. Its not just about knowing "how much" data has been used; the journo points out that the danger to businesses is that users will not spend more than their data plan allows - shock horror. What Amdocs have quite cleverly done is enable both the user to do what s/he wishes, whilst knowledgeably filling the coffers of the telco's.

    2. Telstra's "24/7" app in Australia provides an 'almost live' feed (last 24 hours) of data usege allowing users to see what their data consumption is. I love this app, it gives me complete control over what NOT to spend. This is exactly what the telco's don't want.

    3. Telstra use Sielbel, not Amdocs's OSS/BSS

  22. Fihart

    EE Customers

    The "My T Mobile" app shows data usage on a daily basis, Orange probably has something similar.

    App's a bit slow to load (perhaps a hint that you should switch to EE's 4G service, ho,ho)

    Mostly all it proves to me is that I use much less than I have paid for, but it's useful if you are pushing your limits.

  23. heyrick Silver badge

    Random musings

    Yeah, I noticed the non-megabytes megabytes when trying to work out why my iPad didn't have enough space to copy a video onto it. Finally determined by deleting a video of known size and seeing how much free space appeared, followed by obscene mutterings as I figured out they were using the bullshit decimal-friendly definition. [when we have ten bit bytes and disc sectors are 1000 bytes in size, then it would make sense; otherwise it is pedantic rubbish to use an "official" definition devised decades after computer science used the technical definition, done purely for the purposes of marking less appear as more - your shiny 500GB harddisc will be around 34GB shy of what you would expect if you didn't realise that the writing on the box is basically a justified lie - the drive is not decimal, the drive addressing is not decimal, so why is the size?]

    When my Orange plan included Deezer (back when you used to get extras like that), the Deezer traffic was not counted as part of the data plan. I think it maxed out / slowed down at around the 500Mb/month mark; but since my allocation is also 500Mb/month, it was nice to think "I haven't listened to X in ages" and download it without eating any of my data.

    Orange have a nifty little TV feature which (finally) works; but sadly (stupidly?) the data involved comes out of your data allocation. I can imagine a half hour TV program at mobile resolution eating a fair old amount of data, so this doesn't make the thing particularly attractive except on wifi.

    And, while on the topic of Orange, why do we need to pay extra for tethering? It would be convenient to hook my iPad up to the mobile network, but not at ~€10/month given internet/mobile is already obscenely expensive in France. I am not looking for a separate so-many-Gb allocation, just whack the tiny amount my tablet would use from my current plan. Frankly, the only reason I would want to do this is because a tablet is a lot nicer to look at than a phone a fifth of the size.....

    Here is a question for a service provider: I did an experiment a few years back. I opened common ports on my Livebox and I wrote a program for RISC OS to respond to, record, then drop, such connections. The result was shocking, the attempted connections from Lithuania were dwarfed by the amount of connection attempts from Shenzhen (in China's Guangdong Province, or otherwise just above Hong Kong). I am guessing these connection attempts are routinely firewalled by the Livebox in normal operation. Do these unwanted and unsolicited connection attempts count as part of your data allocation?

  24. Thomas Gray

    It can be done

    I'm on Orange in Switzerland, and they have a tie-in with the streaming TV service Zattoo. I can watch wherever I am, and the data for the TV does not come out of the amount I have paid for - it is, to all intents and purposes, entirely free.

    1. Tom 35

      Re: It can be done

      That's fine, but what if you want to use a different service.

      Much better if they charged a fair price for going over your limit. No need to be limited to what your cell phone company has on offer (likely old crap that you could buy for less in the DVD bin at the super market), use Netflix or what ever you like. If you know watching a move will cost you $5-10 you can decide if that's worth it to pass the time. My old cell phone company charged 5 cents / KB with a max of $100 a month if you go over, (just one of the reasons they are my old company).

  25. Ian 55

    Talk Mobile

    What they said they would do: send a free text alert when the (low) data limit was approached.

    What they did: not send any alert, but charged 10p/Mib until all my PAYG credit was gone and then send me a text saying 'You've got no money left!'

    It was this that got me installing a data checker on my phone.

  26. 080

    Two points. Why would you want to watch a HD movie on a 4" screen and secondly why not just watch the planes or people going by, far more interesting than any movie.

    Boredom is just the sign of a lazy mind.

    1. P. Lee

      As my Grandma used to say, 'There's no such thing as "being bored," its "being boring."'

      1. Rukario

        So which one is your grandma, Neil Tennant or Chris Lowe? (Or Zelda Fitzgerald?)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This is a filler comment, so it's just like the article.

  28. styx-tdo

    bonus: We have something like "minimum unit" for data - like e.g. phone calls being charged per minute only or 60/30..

    These go from 0 up to 1MB. That is something no tool really can measure (or is supporting, at least)....

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