A data plan is a contract with a mobile phone service supplier that only offers Internet access through an IP service. There are no phone calls or text allowances with a data plan, and, in fact, the data service is sometimes only offered via a dongle, a device much like a flash drive through which it is impossible to make or receive a phone call.
As well as a dongle, a data plan can also be accessed through a SIM card that slides into a smartphone or tablet. There are several ways that a data only plan can be useful:
While on the road (or even in the air) on business, access to office documents is often necessary. With a data plan, shared files can be accessed from the cloud or company-owned digital vaults, enabling the entire team to work on documents simultaneously, while being in different locations. Business emails can also be responded to while in transit, and depending on the device being used, VoIP phone calls (Voice over Internet Protocol: calls made via the Internet, rather than through mobile phone towers) can be made to respond to urgent customer enquiries.
When travelling the world, recording exotic adventures in photographs and blog posts, one seldom thinks about coming home to a highly inflated mobile phone bill – but it does happen, taking away much of the relaxation and pleasure from the recent holiday. A safer option is to purchase a short-term data plan, or even a pre-paid one, exchanging the data plan's SIM card for the mobile's usual card. In this way, you will not be liable to charges should you receive a call (some service providers charge both the caller and the call recipient in the event of calls that roam to foreign suppliers), but you can still email home to let friends and family know that you are safe and having fun, stay up-to-date with social media and even keep a blog journal of your travels.
Some people like to have a 'spare' data plan in case their usual Internet router loses signal, while others prefer not to have a landline to their house with all the monthly expense. Modern technology means that some dongles can provide a Wi-Fi connection just as strong and reliable as that provided by a wired router, and often they can support more than one device, working, in effect, like a full router.
Points to consider when choosing your data plan include:
Accessing social media and replying to emails will not use a lot of bandwidth, while streaming videos will quickly use up many mega-bytes' worth of data. Choose a plan according to your needs and ensure that you know what will happen should you go over your limits. Some companies will suspend service, while others are happy to let you go over the limit – for a price!
Do you want to be mobile or will you be in one place? Data plans are great for mobility, but if you will be only using the Internet from home, you may prefer to look at other options.
Compare prices and double-check inclusions and penalties before deciding which data plan to choose.