Between September 22nd and October 19th, I participated in a challenge from my team members that I knew would be difficult, but not impossible.  I really believed I would be able to conquer the No Data, No Problem challenge, and it turns out I was right. No Data No Problem Challenge 2014

If you haven’t been following, here’s what happened.

I got a new iPhone 6 and was determined to save some money on my monthly phone bill while still enjoying all of its fancy new features.  I was a customer of AT&T ever since they acquired Cingular ten years ago, but decided it was time to switch for a variety of reasons.  I chose Verizon, which most everyone I know seemed to be using, and opted to select the most affordable plan they offered with my device.  For $50/month, I had access to unlimited talk, unlimited text and 250MB of data…which is not a lot of data.  With AT&T I was paying more than double that monthly rate, but had a 3GB data allowance.  Much more generous, but did I really need to rely on my cell carrier to use all of it?

My strategy was to use the network around NYC along with other WiFi networks to offload as much data as I possibly could.  I tried to change my behavior as little as possible and use my phone as I normally would.

For an idea of what “normal” is for me, here’s a look at the data consumption on my cell phone bill for the past 12 months.

12 Month Mobile Data Consumption

As you can see in the chart above, I only used 241 megabytes of the data on my mobile plan over the past month during the course of this challenge.  That breaks down to 8.07 megabytes of data per day.  If you factor in the 43% of my monthly limit that I used by accident in my first 3 days with the phone before the challenge started, I really only used 142.5 MB all month, or 5MB per day.

The average consumption on my mobile plan for the other 11 months of the year, when I wasn’t actively connecting to WiFi and offloading my data, was 1.95GB per month, or 65MB each day.

That’s over 12x more daily data…and I was paying for it.

Over the 28 days of the challenge, I kept a log of every place that did and didn’t have WiFi.  67.5% of the places I visited and spent time in provided me with access to free WiFi.  Here’s that list:

Had WiFi

Urban Outfitters, Gramercy Park Hotel, Maialino, Financier Patisserie, The Ainsworth, Chateau Diner, Berry Park, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Cosi USQ, The Bean, Empire Biscuit, Guggenheim Museum, Madison Square Park, Sidebar, Pizza Vinoteca, Columbia University, Toast Chicken, Shake Shack, Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden, The C4Q Tech Bash at MoMa PS1, Best Buy, ACME Restaurant, Bohemian National Hall, my house and our office

No WiFi

Kobeyaki, Dumbo Arts Festival, AMC Kips Bay Movie Theater, Regal Union Square 14 Stadium Theater, Penn Station, Long Island Rail Road, Riposo 72, Pisticci, Engineers Gate at Central Park, Bob’s Furniture, Times Square, apartment party in Williamsburg, Smashburger

Here are some other things I learned over the course of this challenge, as well as some tips I can share.

  • You will see TCWWiFi, CableWiFi, xfinityWiFi and OptimumWiFi networks most places you go around Manhattan when searching for available WiFi networks.  You can connect to them, but actually need your account number and password with each company to gain access.  I never used them once.
  • The biggest inconvenience I faced was when I wanted to use Google Maps while wandering the streets and wasn’t near a free public hotspot or any business offering WiFi.  Using Google Maps to find directions from one place to the next, a process that literally takes 30 seconds, consumed over 10% of my 250MB allowance.  Once I learned that, I found myself using Google Maps before leaving the office to get directions and taking a screenshot or picture of the map for later reference.
  • One mobile upload to Facebook, one Instagram post, one tweet and a few iMessages will consume about 20MB of cellular data…that’s how my plan crept up from 87% to almost 97% this past Saturday night while at a party with no WiFi.

    If I wasn’t actively monitoring how much I used each day using the My Verizon app, I don’t know if things would have gone as well.

  • Your iPhone burns a small amount of data just by being on, even if you aren’t using an app or using the phone at all. To prevent that, I went to Settings, then Cellular, and turned off Cellular Data.  That restricted all of my data to WiFi and prevented burning valuable resources for no reason.
  • I remembered every single place I visited that offered WiFi, and went back to 11/24 more than once during the 28 days.

Honestly, this whole 28 day experiment was easier than I expected.  I really didn’t change much of my behavior and was using my phone as often as I normally would.  The only time I didn’t use my phone was on the train to and from work on the LIRR, where I knew every day I wouldn’t be able to connect to WiFi.  Instead of refreshing Facebook constantly or watching videos, I finished two books, started a third, and did a lot of extra writing during my commute.  I checked my email each morning before leaving the house, so it’s not as if I missed much from a work standpoint during the 40 minutes in the morning and evening that I was disconnected.  Before this whole thing started I was planning on upgrading my data plan once it was over, regardless of the result, but now i’ve realized I don’t need to…or want to.  As more businesses add WiFi, my data plan will be even less valuable and necessary.  While there is no way of tracking the exact amount of data I offloaded onto WiFi, by comparing my average consumption from earlier in the year to what I did this month, I can say the following with confidence.

I was able to offload 1.8GB of data to WiFi networks in 28 days, saving myself over $50 on my bill and validating the idea that using free and guest WiFi can replace an expensive monthly data plan.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this post or tweet me directly.  If you know a business that should have WiFi, nominate them on our website and our team will try to show them the light.