Unlimited data unnecessary for most

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- When it comes to cellphones these days, data is king.

Most carriers initially offered unlimited data plans, which allowed consumers to surf the Web, email and download apps as much as they wanted.

But now, many carriers are doing away with unlimited data plans, forcing customers into tiered plans where you're given a set amount of data each month. If you go over your maximum data allowance, you're slapped with extra charges.

3 On Your Side spoke about the issue with Aaron Baker, who runs a mobile news website called Phonedog.com.

“It’s all about data,” Baker said. “Data, it's the new minutes and carriers realize that.”

All along, Verizon customers have been allowed to grandfather in their unlimited data plans. But Verizon customers who want to upgrade to the new iPhone 5 and keep their unlimited data package will have to pay $649, full price of the phone, compared to $200 if you sign a new contract and do away with your unlimited data.

AT&T is getting rid of its unlimited data plan too, but it is letting customers who already have it keep it.

Sprint, however, is doing what it can to lure iPhone fans away from other carriers by still offering unlimited data to customers, new and old.

But for all the buzz about unlimited data, is it even necessary?

“Unlimited data is a good buzz word in the industry right now,” Baker said before pointing out consumers rarely exceed their maximum data allowance in a given month.

In fact, an Apple representative tells us less than 5 percent of people exceed the amount of data they're given each month. “I think you'd find that the tiered data plans for a lot of people make just as much sense,” Baker said. A recent consumer analysis by the NPD Group showed less than 4% of Verizon, AT&T and Sprint customers exceeded three gigabytes per month.

Baker suggests consumers track data usage for three months to figure out how much data you really use. He also says consumers who exceed their data allowance shouldn't worry about extremely high bills. Verizon and AT&T both charge $15 per gigabyte if you go over.

Some carriers can text your data usage to your phone. But, of course, you can always do it the old-fashioned way by logging on to your account from your desktop.