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In Search of The Data Bandit(s)

With all the posts going around regarding data drain on WP7 devices I decided to do some simple testing on my device to see if any of the claims regarding Microsoft Feedback or Phone Update using excessive data were true. Needless to say, after eight days I am probably more confused now than I was when I started.

For starters, I am on a grandfathered AT&T Unlimited Data Plan, so data use is more a curiosity for me than anything. But I am interested in helping the poor souls with 200MB plans. I was never a really big data user (iPhoner’s should thank me for giving them my excess allotment) but in the first two months (first month adjusted for a full cycle) with my Surround I was averaging 1.7GB/month. After a failed data experiment with an AT&T MicroCell (data is actually worse than 3G) and discovering that battery drain on my WP7 device was minimal with WiFi turned on, I decided to go WiFi 24/7 a day or two after my month/cycle (26th) started. And aside from running errands and a couple times when I was away from the house for a good part of the day, WiFi has been available constantly. 3G in the house was averaging 1.3-1.7 Mbps while WiFi is typically 6.8-8.0 Mbps, so I rationalized that any extra battery usage from WiFi would be made up with quicker download speeds. And of course, there are some things you just can’t view or listen to over the spotty 3G connection.

The excess 3G data usage some are reporting is important to me because I equate data uploading/downloading to battery drain and with my meager 1300 mAh battery, I need every drop I can get. The chart below describes where I was on each day, starting on 1/11/11 through this morning. I started by turning Feedback off (Settings>Feedback) and then followed that up with turning the Phone Update/Cellular option off as well (Settings>Phone Update). By 1/14, I though I was on to something and was going to report a “breakthrough”, but I forgot to check my data usage the night of the 15th and when I checked the next morning I discovered that I had consumed 83MB of 3G data. WTF. Now, I was away from the house on the 15th, out of WiFi range, for several hours watching the Steelers/Ravens game. But the only thing unusual I did with my phone was use Bing/Wikipedia to check the size of an NFL Officials Crew (the answer is 7). Can’t imaging that amounted to 50MB+ of additional usage. On the 16th, while within WiFi range, I downloaded a new app, MiraTV and played around with it for about 45 minutes, looking for working TV feeds. I also listened to some streaming Zune music and download 9 songs to my device. I was really surprised the next morning when I discovered that I had consumed 197MB of 3G data. After playing with MiraTV a bit yesterday, checking feeds that were closed the night before, and doing all the normal tinkering I do with my device all day, this morning I was perplexed to see that only 3MB of data had been added to my 3G total.


I know that when your WP7 device is on charge (AC or USB), WiFi stays on constant and when off charge, WiFi will go to sleep after 45 seconds of screen off (yes, I also tested this). So there are times where 3G will take over to push/sync email, push Live Tile updates, etc., but most of the heavy lifting is done when the screen is turned on and WiFi “is” connected. Additionally, my phone is on charge every night for at least 7 hours, plus it’s usually plugged into a portable backup battery charger for my late day power boost 1-2 hours each day, and/or connected to my PC syncing Zune. So almost half the day, I am WiFi on “constant” and “on demand” the rest of the day. Now, there have been times that my BrightHouse cable connection will simply turn off, usually not more than 5 minutes, and then restart on it’s own. But that’s rare and I would have a hard time pinning that to either of the data usage boosts described above.

So what is using 3G data, sometimes at alarmingly high rates. Third party apps can’t run in the background, but maybe some are not optimized to use WiFi when available. Not sure how that works. It could be the Microsoft built-in services, but I somehow find it difficult to believe that this is equating to MB’s worth of data. Maybe a few KB’s, but MB’s? Or, could it be the OEM or Cellular provider doing things that we don’t know about. Not sure how much access they have to my device. It’s been reported that AT&T records their data usage in lumps, which could explain the jumps above, but it still does not explain how I consumed that much 3G data, with WiFi constantly turned on and within range about 80-90% of every day on average. The only way to truly test all of this is with a fresh, app free device, with a Windows Live ID setup and basically nothing else. But who would want to walk around with that for a week or two. Not me. Using today’s average, I may hit around 1.1GB for the month which is a lot more than I expected, running WiFi all the time. Now that we are into the third month of WP7, how has your experience been? Are those on the 200MB plans still keeping the data numbers down? Anything unusual to report?