Mobile Internet. You use it all the time. Every time you get driving directions on your phone, stream a YouTube video on the train ride home or listen to Pandora or Apple Music while at work, you are taking advantage of the many benefits mobile Internet has to offer. But have you ever thought about how it actually works? And perhaps more importantly, have you ever realized how it might impact you and your wallet?
For the tech-savvy folks out there, this may seem like basic stuff, but the layperson may want to read on! This is how the mobile Internet actually works and functions.
Take Your Pick: Data or Wi-Fi?
Your phone or tablet can access the Internet in one of two ways: via Wi-Fi or over the air on a 3G or 4G network. Wi-Fi you may be familiar with; it’s become pretty commonplace in fact. It’s available in most coffee shops and you likely have it at home as well. It is delivered from a router to your phone, letting you access the Internet anywhere within the vicinity of the Wi-Fi network. It’s fast and convenient. It just works.
The second option, Internet over the air, is what the “Data” on your phone’s service plan refers to. With this method, your phone or tablet accesses the Internet wirelessly as well, but not via a router. Rather, the Internet is often delivered over the same network your phone uses to make a phone call. It’s incredibly convenient, yes, but it can also cost you money if you use this method often. And that is because many data plans have limits on the amount of data that you can use in a given period of time. Go over this limit and you’re liable to pay overage fees.
This is why plans like T-Mobile’s #BingeOn program are becoming so popular, as it provides customers free data. If you want to watch a YouTube video or stream Netflix on your new Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, for example, T-Mobile lets you do so for free. The alternative is to hunt for a Wi-Fi network, of course, but there isn’t always one available nearby, particularly when you’re out in public. Telecommunication networks make it possible to access the Internet from your phone or tablet without having to rely upon a Wi-Fi network, as they are available nearly everywhere. That is their very selling point.
Of course, there are some minor details worth mentioning. For example, mobile Internet is often thought of as being “over the air,” but the truth of the matter is that much of your signal’s journey takes place in fiber-optic cables and copper wires. True, messages sent and received from your phone travel via cell towers (this part is over the air) but from there the signal is often transmitted the old-fashioned way, via a hard line. Sub-oceanic fiber-optic cables crisscross the planet, connecting continents and countries in much the same way that the original telegraph cables did. Pretty cool, right?
But why should you care how mobile Internet works? Well, in addition to the practical benefits (those affecting your wallet, for example), you should also care because…
You’re Likely Reaping the Benefits of Mobile Internet Right Now!
Even if you aren’t quite sure how mobile Internet works, there is little doubt that you benefit from it. If you use a tablet with 3G or 4G connectivity or have a smartphone (and really, who doesn’t at this point?), then you are benefitting from mobile Internet. What are these benefits, exactly? Well, a better question might be what aren’t the benefits of mobile Internet?
The ability to listen to music, get quick directions, and surf the web from our phones seems like such a novelty, but all are made possible thanks to the Internet. The reason that smartphones are so smart isn’t really because of their computing power; it’s because they help you stay connected to the world around you in a way that simply wasn’t possible a decade ago. And this is only possible because of mobile Internet.
Playing games in real-time with other players around the world. Using GPS to navigate your way around your city. Finding Yelp reviews for restaurants you’re interested in trying. Looking up business hours without having to call in. Making reservations with the tap of a finger. Or simply distracting yourself with funny Vine videos while at work. All of these are possible because of the mobile Internet. The 21st century will be defined in part by the smartphone, and the smartphone is what it is because of Internet connectivity.
And now you can say that you know a little bit about how it works!