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Pokemon Go is no data hog, experts say, but some see usage go up

Fans of Pokemon Go, gather at Port Jefferson's

Fans of Pokemon Go, gather at Port Jefferson's Harborfront Park on Monday, July 11, 2016, where they used their phones to try to catch virtual Pokemon characters that might appear at that location. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

In the wake of Pokemon Go’s sweeping popularity, some consumers and even elected officials have raised concerns about how much cellular data the monster-catching augmented-reality game consumes.

Carriers such as Verizon Wireless and analysts have said the app, developed by Google spinoff Niantic Inc., isn’t a data hog, instead suggesting that data spikes may be the result of players using other apps while off Wi-Fi. But some players — and their parents — have taken to social media to express concern.

That concern was echoed by three House lawmakers who sent a letter to Niantic CEO John Hanke asking if the app warns people about how much data it uses. And one carrier, T-Mobile, is marketing a Pokemon Go special that includes free data coverage for the game for a year.

On Long Island, some parents said they’ve seen entire monthly family data plans spent in only two weeks’ time since Pokemon Go launched July 6, leaving them with no data until the start of August unless they paid to purchase additional gigabytes.

“My 16-year-old son has been playing, and on the 15th of [July] I got an alert that my data was about to run out,” said Bethpage resident Aure Sanchez. Her family uses a five-phone, 25-gigabyte-a-month plan through her carrier, Sprint. After checking the family’s data usage, Sanchez said the culprit was her middle son, who was averaging about 2 1⁄2 hours of Poke-hunting a day while she was at work. “He used 22 out of the 25 gigs . . . That’s not normal.”

Greenlawn resident Terry Ferrisi said while she hasn’t seen data usage on her four-phone, 20-gigabyte AT&T plan “double or anything,” she’s noticed a definite increase. “I would say maybe 20 percent.”

Ferrisi, who said she monitors data usage “every other day,” upgraded her data plan right around the launch of the game in preparation. “I knew Pokemon Go was coming out, so I had upped the plan.”

Experts weigh in

Despite the concerns, tech experts say the app on its own consumes relatively little data, especially when compared with video streaming apps.

“It was interesting because we thought, ‘Hey, this must be a data-heavy application,’ ” said Dirk Bernhardt, chief executive of the U.S. headquarters of German-owned network analytics firm P3 communications.

The firm, which researches consumer experience for mobile carriers, conducted an analysis of more than 500 Android smartphone users who play Pokemon Go and determined that the average player only consumes about 5 to 10 megabytes of mobile data per hour of play.

While actual data usage varies from user to user, Bernhardt said, even at a higher rate of 25 megabytes per hour, a “Poketrainer” would have to play 40 hours a week to use 1,000 megabytes — 1 gigabyte — of data.

“It would be a full-time job as an average Pokemon Go player to really access that data volume,” he said.

While it’s unclear what could be leading some consumers to experience spikes in data usage, Paul Trapani, vice president of LISTnet, a promoter of tech growth on Long Island, speculates that when users are playing Pokemon Go they’re also “using other things.”

Seen as just a deviation

Because the game requires players to leave their couches to catch the fictional monsters — leaving behind reliable Wi-Fi access — “these people are out of their house more so than they would be,” leading to a potential increase in overall data usage, Trapani said.

Elizabeth Fife, a researcher of mobile data usage trends and professor at the University of Southern California, said, overall, people tend to underuse their monthly data, so any deviations can be noticeable.

“People don’t have a clear idea really of how much data they’re consuming,” she said. According to a 2015 survey, Fife reported, 38 percent of respondents — the largest group — believe they underused their data plans.

“People try not to use the cellular plan,” she said, so any deviation from the norm can be startling for consumers not “used to seeing a blip at all.” She, too, thinks the issue might be changes in behavior, and that players could be unknowingly “running other apps in the background.”


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