Friday, February 03, 2012

GPS, data caps and a crushing blow to location based services

For the first time ever I have received a warning that my smartphone data usage was coming close to my monthly limit.

It’s actually only the second month I’ve had a data limit – part of the joys of a new contract with O2 on an iPhone 4S.
I was assured when taking it out that my data usage was well within the limits they set. (A quick check of my records reveals I used no more that 175mb/month in the 3 months previous to the new contract).

I thought nothing more of it.
Until I got a text on Jan 31 telling me I’d used 80% of my 500mb limit and it wouldn’t be reset until February 7.

I hadn’t been streaming radio or video. I had maybe shared a handful of images the whole month. My iCloud settings were set to synch only when on wifi and the phone is plugged in.
In fact I did all the checks and there seemed little out of the ordinary.

In short I had used my 4S pretty much as I had the 3G it replaced and it was eating 3 times as much data.

O2 (via twitter) suggested it may be apps I’m running in the background. But of course apps don’t really run in the background, they only activate when called on (at least any built for IOS4).

I checked anyway. Cleared out loads of stuff in there.

The critical ones, it may be, are those which require GPS – ie location based stuff. The two key culprits for me; Googlemaps and Foursquare.
I’d rather like to leave them on, for the obvious reasons.

And I suspect the nascent location based services industry (which the telco's would also benefit from) would rather like us to leave them on, too. Because, unless I’m very much mistaken, the new limits on data use the telecoms industry seems so keen on look ready to strangle it at birth.

Don't know about you but I feel like I'm paying so much more for so much less. In the meantime, I guess this is what is for - download it free at the appstore.

And talking of App(le) Stores, O2 ended up setting up an appointment for me at my local Apple Store. They say they have had cases of iCloud using 3G for back-up even when it appears to be set to Wifi. They also, kindly, added a free data bolt-on to cover me this month while we investigate.

But if Apple can't find an issue with my phone (and I will update this when I have a result) then O2 and other providers may have to face up to the issue that their data limits are woefully inadequate to support today's smartphones and the ecosystem they promise to deliver.

UPDATE (Feb 3, 2012 2pm): The Genius bar at Cambridge (UK) could offer little advice other than try resetting the phone in the hope that perhaps one of my apps is incorrectly installed and continuingly calling on data when it shouldn't be. This (after the traditional 2 hours or so of back up and synching) I have done.

IF this does not work (ie reveal a significant fall in data use compared to previous, then Apple suggested I take it up with the operator who may be miscalcuating data (they've seen rare cases). And if that fails they'll try me with a new phone... Will keep you posted.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?