How certain music streaming services could drain your data plan.

A few months ago, AT&T made the announcement that they would start capping their mobile data plans. Before, customers paid $30 for unlimited data. Going forward, it’s either $15 for 250 MB or $25 for 2 GB. I’ve been expecting this for a long time, as these companies will have to add some limits to their data plans the same way they’ve always had limits for their voice plans. It’s especially necessary now that people are starting to use VOIP apps to make calls, essentially rendering the “minutes” you buy from AT&T worthless, since you can do all your talking through their data.

In short, these cellular companies are just going to be data companies. That’s what you’ll pay for, and will be able to use it for voice, text, or internet. We’re not there yet, but that’s where we’ll get.

One immediate question I had about these new plans was their effect on cloud-based music services like Pandora and Rdio (I use and love both). These services constantly pull music from the cloud, so if AT&T is now limiting data there is a fear of depleting your data at a much faster rate? If so, this would really hurt theses services, not to mention our consumption of music. I decided to do a test and compare how much data Pandora and Rdio really use. It was surprising.


Pandora claims they have been working for years to reduce the amount of data used to stream their music. I wanted to put this to the test. I let Pandora run on two different occasions, each time with a different station playing, for exactly one hour each. The results? They’re right: Pandora uses a surprisingly small amount of data!


The first hour, I used 14.9 MBs and the second 16 MB. That’s a full hour of music, which equates to about 60 MBs of MP3s. I think that’s pretty impressive. To get an idea of what that means on a monthly (4-week) basis, here’s a quick model:

Let’s assume that most of the time you have a WiFi connection (which doesn’t use AT&T data), so you only really listen to 3G-streamed music a maximum of three hours a day. I decided on this number by assuming the average user has a one-hour door-to-door commute where they could be listening to the radio, twice a day. Add another hour for someone averaging a one-hour workout per day.

For this example, that would be around 45 MBs a day, which is between 1.3-1.4 GB per month. That’s a pretty big chunk of your 2GB data plan, but not unreasonable. Besides, I think you’d be surprised with how much data you use doing basic web surfing and emailing each month. It’s not a lot.


The other test I did was with Rdio, and it was very interesting. One one hand the results were amazing. On the other hand, it was a bit dangerous.

Rdio’s mobile app works by letting you store local versions of your Rdio collection on your mobile phone. Within the Rdio web app you choose what albums in your collection you want on your mobile app. Then, when you open the mobile app, you can sync the collection and download these tracks. I bet you see where this is going.


With music already on the phone, Rdio used almost no data. It was phenomenal. After listening to music for an hour, the phone had used 153k. That’s almost nothing, and most likely was used by the phone doing other stuff. This isn’t surprising, because the music was already on the phone’s hard drive. At this rate, you would never need to worry about data usage at all. It’s amazing. But Rdio has a catch.

If the songs aren’t already on your phone, but you go to play them, it will start syncing them. Not only that, it will start syncing all the unsynced songs in your library. This becomes a big problem, very quickly.

For my test, I selected about 10 albums to be added to my Rdio mobile collection.  I thought this was fairly reasonable, given a fair amount of browsing and picking new albums for my collection. Then, I went off WiFi, fired up my phone, and tried to play one of the albums. As expected, it started syncing… and syncing… and syncing. [Note: I started syncing about 20 minutes after resetting my phone, which is why the time difference is over an hour]

Datatest-rdio-syncWithin 1 hour, I’d used over 400 MBs of data! And I still had more syncing to go, but I quit the app. That is almost 25% of my monthly data used in 1 hour of a background task. That’s CRAZY. So you need to be very very very careful of syncing and make sure to do it only when on WiFi.

I still use and love Rdio and expect them to fix this. It should be a really simple fix, as they can only have it sync the album you want to listen to when not on WiFi, or just have an alert pop up saying “You are currently not on WiFi. Syncing could use significant data.” Any alert would be helpful.

So, in closing, these are two great music streaming solutions that wont hurt your data plan, even if you’re cell phone provider has capped it!


  1. brendenmulligan posted this