(BPT) - Access to cellular data has become the lifeblood of communications in the 21st century. We stay connected to keep up with news, weather and sports, listen to music, check email, watch movies and videos or grab new apps that let us do even more. With today's technology, a few clicks on your smartphone screen can bring the whole world into the palm of your hand.
This is great news for cellular providers, who ply us with increasingly large (and increasingly expensive) data packages to feed our modern need to surf and stream wherever we go. However, it may not be such great news when your cellphone bill arrives each month and you find yourself ponying up big bucks for cellular data.
So what's the easiest way to stay connected without breaking the bank? Fortunately, the answer is now all around us.
Find the hotspots
Wi-Fi networks ('Wi-Fi' is short for wireless fidelity) are available just about anywhere you go these days, from hospitals to coffee shops to hotels to department stores. By connecting to Wi-Fi, it's possible to stay connected all day long without using any of your cellular data. With rare exceptions, it's completely free.
Wi-Fi technology allows you to connect smartphones, laptops or tablets to the internet through a communal access point, or 'hotspot.' The resulting data usage is not occurring on your mobile network, meaning it does not count against the data on your cellphone plan.
It's easy to connect to Wi-Fi by turning it on in your smartphone's settings. By leaving it on, your phone will always be searching for a strong Wi-Fi signal, and will either connect automatically or alert you to sign-in if an available network is password protected.
More speed, more power
There are other advantages. In many cases, the speed of a strong, dedicated Wi-Fi connection will actually be faster than your cellular network. The difference might not be that obvious if you are only reading email or checking out a web page, but it is very noticeable if you need to transfer larger files.
In addition, using Wi-Fi can make a difference in extending your device's battery life. The further you are from a cellular tower, the more energy you need for that data signal to be of any use. Wi-Fi access points are typically much closer, and therefore use less power to communicate and transfer data.
An essential 'Plan B'
While hotspots are now quite common, you'll still find yourself in locations where Wi-Fi simply isn't accessible, especially when you're traveling. That's why having an adequate cellular data plan is still a necessity, even if you're using it very little.
How much data do you really need? After you've started using Wi-Fi on a regular basis, take a look at your monthly cellphone bill. Compare the amount of data your plan offers to the amount you actually use. The average consumer uses about 1.8 gigabytes (GB) of data each month, which is far less than what's included in most standard cellphone plans.
Don't pay for more than you need
Today, many carriers tout the advantages of having 'unlimited' data. The reality is that most people will never need it. See if your carrier offers a plan that's better aligned with your actual usage, and if so, find out if it's easy to switch.
If not, look to carriers like Consumer Cellular, who specialize in providing smaller, more affordable data plan options along with the flexibility to switch plans from month-to-month with no additional fees. This gives you the freedom to adjust your data plan to fit your specific needs, rather than paying for more than you're likely to use.
Regularly connecting to Wi-Fi lets you preserve your cellular data for those situations when you really need it. Perhaps more importantly, it can help you save significantly on your monthly cellphone bill. It is a great way to enjoy the best of both worlds.