Good news: Pokemon Go probably won't rack up huge data bill
Game just released in Canada has more than 21 million daily users in the U.S.
If you or your family members have been obsessively chasing Pokemon across town, you may be worried about what that's doing to your mobile data bill.
Here's some good news: Pokemon Go isn't as data hungry as you might think.
Pokemon Go officially launched in Canada on Sunday afternoon for Android and iOS devices, almost two weeks after its launch in the U.S.
The game sends players into the real world to search for the mythical digital pocket monsters known as Pokemon, who appear onscreen when users hold up their smartphones in various locations at various times of the day.
Data analytics firm P3 tracked more than 200 smartphone owners in the U.S. and Germany between July 6 and July 15, 2016, and found that the average Pokemon Go session lasts around 175 seconds or three minutes, consuming about 300 kilobytes of data.
That means you could play more than 3,000 sessions in a month with a one-gigabyte data plan (provided you did nothing else on your phone, of course).
P3 found that users averaged about 13 minutes or about four sessions per day, which would amount to roughly 130 sessions a month.
The bad news is that P3 confirmed that Pokemon Go is a huge drain on your battery, sucking power 50 per cent faster than YouTube or Facebook, so you might not have enough juice to play as much as you'd like.
At least one Canadian carrier, Telus, is offering free charging to Pokemon hunters at select stores across the country, and promises to also take the opportunity to offer tips on how to extend your phone's battery life, manage your data plan, and find free Wi-Fi to cut down on data usage.
Pokemon Go's low data usage is partly because its GPS doesn't need to redraw that map as often as navigation apps do and partly because the game mostly relies on smartphone functions that don't consume data, such as the camera and gyroscope, P3 CEO Dirk Bernhardt told the technology news site Gadgets360.
Of course, Canadian users are prudent to have at least some concerns.
A recent study by OpenMedia, a Vancouver-based group that advocates for an open internet, found that in most Canadian provinces, all monthly wireless plans have data caps. Customers are hit with extra "overage charges" of about $5 to $6 for each 100 MB over the limit.
"Typically many Canadians still have plans of under a gigabyte or less, and it's simply not enough to take advantage of everything the internet has to offer," said David Christopher, communications manager for OpenMedia.
Free Pokemon Go data
John Legere, CEO of the U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile tweeted on July 12 that in the previous four days, the number of active Pokemon Go players on the company's network had doubled, and their data usage had quadrupled.
Since last Friday, the number of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PokemonGO?src=hash">#PokemonGO</a> active players on our network doubled, & their data usage QUADRUPLED!! <a href="https://t.co/TPB77vtrjl">pic.twitter.com/TPB77vtrjl</a>—@JohnLegere
The game already had 21 million daily users in the U.S. by late last week, T-Mobile said in a release.
The company proposed a solution: It's offering free unlimited data for Pokemon Go for a year. New and existing customers can get the offer if they download the T-Mobile Tuesdays app between today and Aug. 9. That type of deal, where certain types of data are free (but everything else, from surfing the web to watching movies on YouTube, counts toward your data cap), is called zero-rating pricing.
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Legere suggested that with other carriers' data plans "players could easily burn up the family's data bucket — and then, hello, overages!"
Companies like T-Mobile hope such promotions will appeal to consumers and help the company's service stand out from that of its competitors.
But Christopher said he doesn't think T-Mobile's offer is as good a deal as it looks.
"It's a bad idea, both for consumers and for the wider digital economy," he said.
From a consumer perspective, he noted that such offers are often paired with low data caps.
"Telecom companies think they can get away with imposing these very, very low data caps if they marry those data caps with these kinds of deals," he said, adding that if such deals aren't allowed, they might be pressured to raise the caps.
In the long run, such deals can also hurt innovation in general, Christopher said.
That's because other people may be working on apps that are even better and more innovative than Pokemon Go, but that would eat up people's data plans during use, causing people to think twice if they have the option to use an app with free data.
"They would straight away be at a disadvantage vis-à-vis Pokemon Go if these kinds of zero-rating deals are allowed to stand."
Some Canadian carriers have offered zero-rating deals similar to T-Mobile's unlimited Pokemon Go data plan, exempting certain types of data from data charges. Quebec-based Videotron's Unlimited Music plan, for example, allows users to stream music from several popular services such as Stingray, Google Play and Spotify without the data counting toward their data cap.
Could free Canadian Pokemon Go plans be coming soon?
Christopher said it's possible, but he has doubts. That's because a CRTC consultation is currently underway to determine if such deals should even be allowed in Canada. It was prompted by a complaint over Videotron's Unlimited Music.