Harry here. If you’ve ever wondered how much phone data you need as a rideshare driver, you’re not the only one! Today RSG contributor Jon Knope takes a look at exactly how much data all of the top rideshare apps use and compares a few of the budget carrier options.
There aren’t a lot of requirements to become a rideshare driver, but after passing a background check and securing a vehicle, the next biggest expense for drivers is often their cell phone and data plan. Today, we’ll be looking at exactly how much data you’ll use as a rideshare driver – and compare some popular options for getting that data on the cheap.
How Much Data Do You Need?
It all depends on how much you’ll be driving. If you only drive part-time like I do, and have access to WiFi at most other times, you might find that 2GB is plenty. If you’re driving 40 hours a week, or you like to stream music or video while away from WiFi, you’ll need more.
Data Usage While Ridesharing: The Numbers
I monitored my data usage during four separate four-hour test periods on Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Amazon Flex here in Atlanta. Then I calculated typical monthly usage totals for 15 hours per week and 40 hours per week on each platform. All four apps used similar amounts of data during the test period – so even if you drive for a different service not listed here, you can probably expect similar numbers.
It’s important to keep in mind that data usage can vary significantly depending on how busy you are. Back-to-back requests will use more data than staying in one place for hours on end waiting for rides (assuming you’re not using your data plan for something else while you wait, that is!). I tried to stay as busy as possible for the testing period, so I suspect these numbers are on the high end of average.
Data Usage While Ridesharing: The Other Numbers
The first table only shows the data you’ll need to run the specific rideshare apps. Data used by your GPS app is another matter entirely. If you use a standalone GPS unit like a Garmin for navigating, you won’t need to worry about this. If, like many drivers, you use an app like Google Maps or Waze, you’ll be using data for that, too. Here’s how much my navigation apps used during my tests:
If we do the math, we find that a rideshare driver working 15 hours per week will use a grand total of about 850 MB per month, while a driver working 40 hours per week will use about 2.2 GB/month. But keep in mind, that’s a bare minimum – it doesn’t include streaming music from Pandora, or checking Facebook in between rides, or anything else that you do with your phone besides calling and texting. It also doesn’t include data used by apps in the background. While background data use from these particular apps is negligible, other apps can grab quite a few MBs while you’re not looking.
On some devices, you can see how much cellular data each app is using by going to settings > mobile data usage. If your device doesn’t have this option, there are a variety of apps available to track data usage in the app store or play store.
Related article: Essential gear every rideshare driver should have
What If I Run Out Of Data?
This depends on your specific carrier. On most plans, you’ll get “throttled.” Your data will no longer come through your phone’s 4G connection; rather, it will be routed over a much slower 3G network. You may have the option to purchase additional GB’s, but this is usually quite costly, and definitely not something you want to be doing on a regular basis.
While you may find driving is still possible on a throttled connection, it may not go smoothly. You may have to wait whole minutes to get directions to load through Google Maps or Waze, and your passengers will undoubtedly start to get impatient. The rideshare apps themselves may run very slowly or not at all. Ridesharing on a throttled data plan is definitely something you want to avoid.
Related Article: What to do about the Uber app crapping out
Even if you’re not at risk for hitting your data cap, I always recommend that drivers who use Google Maps take advantage of the “offline maps” feature. Google will allow you to download maps of a pretty big area ahead of time over WiFi, so you can still get directions even if you don’t have service. This is really helpful, especially when you find yourself on a long ride through areas where cell service might be spotty.
What’s The Best Cell Phone Plan For Ridesharing?
You may have noticed that Uber and Lyft have partnerships with major cell phone carriers to offer discounts to drivers, but in order to be eligible, you have to hit certain trip thresholds. Additionally, these discounted plans are sometimes still more expensive, per GB, than those offered by so-called “resellers.” There are a wide variety of companies that offer cheaper phone plans that make use of the big 3’s existing cell towers – in other words, the same service for less money.
With resellers, you’ll pay upfront for your phone, and you won’t be locked into a contract. So the phone itself may be more expensive than purchasing a phone through a carrier. However, you’ll be saving that money when it comes time to pay your bill every month – and you’ll own your phone instead of making payments on it.
Comparing cell plans is a tricky business, because they’re all slightly different. Without going too far into the weeds, here is a summary of the current budget cell phone offerings. The price listed is per month; all plans include unlimited nationwide calls and texts.
This is the carrier I use – they operate on the Sprint network. Boost recently simplified their offerings – they now offer only two price tiers, the $30/2GB plan and the $50 unlimited plan. However, you can add up to 2GB to the $30/mo plan for $5/GB. A unique feature at Boost is the option to save an additional $5 per month by installing their “Boost Dealz” app. The app simply serves up an advertisement each time you unlock your phone. While closing these ads all the time is a bit of a hassle, I’ve found that I’ve gotten pretty used to them by now – and saved a bunch of money in the process.
Cricket operates on AT&T’s network, and their 8GB plan stands out as a winner. If you drive a lot, and AT&T offers good coverage in your area, it will be hard to beat that price per GB. Cricket also offers pretty good deals on devices – in some cases they’re even free, which is pretty amazing considering you won’t be locked into a contract.
Republic Wireless is a bit unique. Their devices use both the Sprint and T-Mobile networks. In addition, their phones offer the ability to make calls and send texts over WiFi – in fact, the phone can even make use of both WiFi and 3G/4G simultaneously. This allows you to stay fully connected via WiFi in areas where cell reception might be poor, like your basement. While not the cheapest option per GB, this unique option could be invaluable if your house gets poor cell service. Head to the Republic Wireless website to learn more.
StraightTalk’s $45/mo plan stands out as a good buy – and for $10 more you can double your data, giving you plenty of spare GB’s for entertaining yourself between rides. StraightTalk is what’s known as an MVNO – or Mobile Virtual Network Operator. They have agreements with all three major networks, so you should be getting service anytime you’re in range of a tower – whether it’s a Sprint tower, an AT&T tower, or one from another company. Head to the StraightTalk website to learn more about their plans and devices.
T-Mobile operates their own network, so you’ll have to make sure they offer coverage in your area first. They offer a variety of plans – some of which include unlimited music and video streaming that won’t count against your data cap. T-Mobile also offers some pretty good deals on family plans, so if you’re shopping for a group, this is definitely an option to check out.
Choosing A Plan
My best advice is to do a lot of research. Look carefully at the coverage maps from each company, and find out if you’ll be getting adequate coverage at your home and in the areas you typically drive. Family plans add another layer of complexity to the matter – so if you’re shopping for a whole household, be prepared to take notes while you’re doing your research!
Look into the discounts available to you from Lyft and Uber, and compare them with the prepaid plans I’ve listed above. Be sure to compare the total cost of the plan over a one or two year period – if you’re considering paying for your device month-to-month, you’ll typically find that buying one upfront from a reseller will work out to be cheaper over the long term.
Drivers: Which cell phone plan do you use? Are you happy with it? Let us know!
-Jon @ RSG
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