Mobile Internet connectivity has become such a crucial part of our lives that for most of us, it's unthinkable to subscribe to any telco service that doesn't provide it to us by default.
However, in spite of a growing number of such data plans on the market today, it hasn't gotten any easier to identify which one best meets our needs.
"A lot of people suspect that it's expensive to use a data plan but if you're on the right one, it really isn't," says Zalman Zainal, chief marketing officer at Celcom Axiata Bhd.
He says most first time users of mobile Internet plans tend to be afraid to commit to paying a fixed amount every month, as they are uncertain how much of it they will actually need.
"I think consumers first need to know roughly what they want to use the data for. They need to know their usage skew. Generally, most have an even usage of voice and SMS versus data," Zalman says.
In his opinion, first time users should start off by opting for a mid-range data plan.
Only after using the plan for some time will a user be able to estimate what his or her usage pattern is like, and can then adjust accordingly, upgrading to a plan with a larger data quota if required.
"The main thing here is that you shouldn't be afraid, otherwise it's going to hamper your mobile Internet experience. Just do a bit of research to estimate how much you need and buy a plan which is decent. Don't go too low or too high," he says.
Some users may also want to factor things like the availability of LTE services when choosing between plans offered by different telco operators, but Zalman feels LTE is only useful for certain kinds of mobile users.
"LTE will definitely make your daily data usage more efficient, but the difference in speed between 3G and 4G is only noticeable if you are an advanced data user. You'll see a significant difference if you are downloading a lot of files or viewing videos. But if most of your usage is just for chat or social media, you may not really notice the difference," he says.
"For regular users, 3G networks are sufficient and having 1GB of data is enough. If you're a heavy social media user or frequently stream music and videos, you'll basically need 2GB and above," says Jasmine Lee, chief marketing officer of U Mobile Sdn Bhd. "It really depends on what you use the data for."
In her opinion, those who are aged 30 and above are usually the ones who find it hardest to decide on which data plan to purchase.
"The youth already know straight away what they want. But I think those above 30 have this fear of getting a plan. It's good to do a bit of research. Go to each operator's Facebook page and see the kind of feedback they're getting," Lee says.
Give it a go
Ultimately, Lee believes there's no better way of determining whether a particular data plan is worth signing up for than to go out and get one to try it out for yourself.
"You can do the same for any operator. Just buy the SIM card with the lowest cost and try it out. Go to your area and see if it's good, and then only decide whether to subscribe (for the long term)."
Jason Lo, chief executive officer of Tune Talk Sdn Bhd holds a similar view.
"What you should do when you buy your data plan is you should test the speed. Walk around the areas where you use data the most. People often don't consider this," he says.
In addition, Stewart Kumar, head of products at Tune Talk says consumers should familiarise themselves with their individual usage patterns.