4G is creeping up on us like sneaky thief, threatening to nick our free time and make our smartphones and tablets even more essential for everyday life. It offers significantly faster download speeds than 3G and can even outpace average fixed line broadband services, so you’ll probably be looking to adopt a new 4G compatible smartphone and a tariff to match. But will you use more data on 4G than you do at the moment, or will making the leap not cause you to change your habits too much?
The evidence from across the pond is compelling, because of course in the US they’ve had 4G coverage for a couple of years and are in a better position to assess just how much of an impact it has on data consumption.
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A report published by Informa Telecoms & Media found that average 4G customers burn through more data than those with 3G devices. The biggest drain on data was video streaming, with Netflix subscribers on 4G plans doubling the amount of data they consumed by watching video. The reason for video streaming being far more prevalent and popular among those with 4G phones is that faster download speeds and lower network latency lead to a smoother, more consistent experience. If you’ve tried watching a Netflix movie via 3G you may well appreciate that it can be a stop-start process which is difficult to endure if you’re in an area with patchy coverage. 4G should solve these issues and indeed this means that people will definitely churn through a data allowance at a faster rate if they do not keep tabs on usage.
Services such as Netflix which deliver mobile movie streaming over 4G or Wi-Fi will also tend to serve you the best possible pixel quality that will allow you to watch uninterrupted. This often means 4G will deliver HD footage versus the standard definition quality over a stuttering 3G connection.
A higher streaming quality is guaranteed to use more data, so if you on 4G and running low on allowances, make sure you change your video playback to standard definition.
But what about the other services you’ll want to access? For example, how much data does Skype use when you make calls? Thankfully the most data-intensive thing you can do with your smartphone is stream video, so most other activities will not put as much strain on your data allowance. On average a minute-long call between two Skype users will consume 3MB of data, with calls to mobile or landline numbers using 1MB per minute because of the lower audio quality.
Of course if you want to make a video call, then the consumption will obviously be higher and you could get through 30 to 50MB a minute when using a 4G connection. Web browsing is right at the bottom of the scale when it comes to data consumption, although if your phone is able to load pages quicker then you might be happy to visit bigger, more complex sites when you are out and about, which will further influence your usage habits.
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You basically need to work out how much you currently use your phone for data-based services, how this might increase if you adopt 4G and how much you’ll need to pay each month to get a phone on a tariff that will support this without forcing you to go over your inclusive allowance and pay the additional charges that you might then incur as a result.