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Alex KotlerJanuary 6, 20214 min read

Cellular Data Speed: Expectations VS. Reality

It’s a question many of us ask when reviewing our monthly expenses: Why am I paying so much for my mobile plan? It seems straightforward—pick a cheaper service provider, get the same perks, and save money. But the reality of mobile data speeds and services isn’t as simple as it seems. Let's unpack this.


Unraveling Data Speed Myths

“4G LTE” and “High Speed” are terms thrown around quite a bit in the mobile world. They sound impressive, but what do they actually mean for you? Not all 4G LTE services are created equal. Imagine paying $65 a month expecting blazing speeds over 200 Mbps, only to find you can enjoy these speeds only until you hit a data cap. On the flip side, a $35 plan might throttle you to a sluggish 10 Mbps under similar conditions.


Why Does Your Data Speed Vary?

Data speeds are fickle; they fluctuate based on how many people are using the network or how far you are from a cell tower. This variability can make two identical phones on the same network perform differently. A mobile speed test might show you peak performance in one instance and then something much slower minutes later, much like snapshots that don’t quite capture the whole movie. To verify your speed, you can use websites like and Another thing to keep in mind— a cell phone data speed test uses the same process as your home internet. So you can check the download speed of your WiFi network at home and in real-time.




Reading Between the Lines of Your Mobile Plan

Diving into the fine print of your mobile plan can feel like deciphering a legal document. Terms like "HD" and "720p" might restrict you to lower video quality than you’d hoped. More affordable plans often reduce your data priority, leading to endless buffering circles on your screen. Understanding these terms is key to choosing the right plan.


Simplifying Some Terminology

  • 4G LTE: This standard in mobile network technology ensures adequate speeds for browsing and streaming under typical usage conditions.
  • LTE-A (LTE-Advanced): A progression from 4G LTE, this technology offers improved data throughput and capacity, beneficial for users requiring robust connectivity.
  • 5G: Representing the forefront of mobile technology, 5G provides enhanced speeds and reduced latency, supporting a higher volume of connected devices simultaneously.
  • Throttling: This practice involves the intentional slowing of internet speeds by providers, often after a user reaches a predetermined data limit or during peak usage times.
  • Data Cap: The pre-set limit on the amount of data one can use within a billing cycle before potential speed reductions or additional charges are applied.
  • Network Congestion: This phenomenon occurs when too many devices attempt to use the network at once, resulting in slower speeds for connected users.
  • Deprioritization: Some service providers may lower the data speed for users on budget-friendly plans during periods of high traffic to maintain service quality for premium subscribers.
  • Latency: Often referred to as ping, this metric measures the time delay in data communication over a network, crucial for applications that require timely data delivery such as video streaming or online gaming.


Guidelines for Selecting a Mobile Plan

When choosing a mobile plan, it's essential to weigh several key factors carefully:

  • Analyze Data Usage: Evaluate how much data you regularly consume. High-data activities like streaming videos and online gaming necessitate a plan with ample data and fast connectivity. For less demanding tasks such as browsing or sending emails, a plan with lower data provisions might be more cost-effective.

  • Inspect Plan Specifications: Pay close attention to each plan's data limits and the speeds they offer. These factors are crucial as they determine how well you can access and use online resources. Also, be aware of any potential extra fees for data overages.

  • Check Coverage Reliability: The effectiveness of a mobile plan is also dependent on the provider’s network strength, especially in areas where coverage varies. Reliable network coverage is crucial for those who travel frequently or reside in less urban areas.

Taking the time to consider these aspects will ensure that you select a mobile plan that aligns well with your usage habits and geographical needs.



For those whose mobile usage is minimal, and who stay primarily within urban centers, a cheaper plan might suffice. However, for frequent travelers or avid video stream enthusiasts, investing in a more expensive plan with a reliable provider could prove to be a smarter choice, ensuring better service and fewer interruptions.

As we look ahead, the advent of 5G technology looms as a potential game-changer in mobile data speeds and reliability. This emerging technology is set to reshape the landscape, potentially influencing which plans offer the best value moving forward. Now is an excellent time to reassess your mobile plan. Is it truly meeting your needs, or could a different plan save you money while still keeping you effectively connected? Arm yourself with the knowledge needed to make an informed decision that aligns with your lifestyle and budget.


Alex Kotler

Alex Kotler, SVP U.S Business Development. A veteran within the telecommunications industry, Alex has vast knowledge and experience across all facets of the industry.