Mobile data is a central factor for many people when choosing a phone contract, and picking the right amount will depend on your smartphone habits. Nobody wants to pay for more data than they are using or run out halfway through the month.
To help you determine how much mobile data you need when choosing a phone contract or SIM-only deal, we’ve highlighted the most important and common reasons for using data, alongside the activities that each data allowance is most suitable for.
Do I need mobile data?
Anytime you want to access the internet while disconnected from Wi-Fi, your phone will need to use mobile data. This is necessary when using social media, playing games and accessing streaming sites.
Mobile data connects you to nearby 4G and 5G towers, so you can remain connected while on-the-go. Unlike public Wi-Fi, mobile data is paid for through your monthly contract.
What uses up mobile data?
If you use your phone to check emails, you’ll need mobile data if you’re not already connected to Wi-Fi. Emails don’t eat a lot of data unless you are working directly from your phone and sending large attachments; about 1000 emails can be sent with 1GB of data for example.
When downloading apps, your phone will use data. It's best waiting to start downloads when you are connected to Wi-Fi if it’s not essential, particularly when downloading videos or games that can often be much larger in size.
A useful tip for managing your data is to configure the auto-update setting. The Google Play and Apple App stores enable you to set whether your phone automatically updates apps over Wi-Fi or mobile data. It’s possible for apps to update in the background, so changing this setting to ensure they only update over Wi-Fi is a good way to prevent unnecessary data usage.
Music streaming sites can take up a large portion of your data if you use them regularly. The amount of data consumed is based on the bitrate; the higher the bitrate, the more data is used up. Spotify’s High quality setting streams at 160Kbps, consuming around 72MB per hour, but this will differ depending on the streaming service.
It’s possible to download artists and playlists to your phone from these apps, which you can then listen to offline and save on data.
Streaming video is also a heavy data activity, but that can vary depending on image quality. Higher quality streams, such as those in 4K, will use more data compared to a 1080p HD video. Some apps including Netflix also have a download option, so that you can watch videos offline.
Even short bursts of social media use can consume a noticeable amount of data, especially if done regularly. Try to be mindful of the type of content you consume, as videos and photos will use more data than text-based content.
You won’t need a huge amount of data to browse the web, unless you spend several hours doing so. The average webpage requires about 1-3MBs to load, but those with more images or videos can use up more data.
It’s easy to consume a lot of data when gaming online or offline, especially if you’re playing at the highest settings. It’s best to save your gaming time until you are on Wi-Fi, or give yourself a bigger data allowance.
An activity that can use up a lot of your data is video calling. A 5-minute call can use around 15-25MB of data, so try to make any video calls while on Wi-Fi or keep them short if you need to be on a mobile data connection.
How much is 1GB of data?
Knowing how long 1GB can last you is important when planning your mobile data usage and choosing a contract. A single gigabyte of data (1GB) is equivalent to 1024MBs, with which you can stream up to 8 hours of music, watch an hour of standard-definition video, or send 1.5 million WhatsApp messages.
Daily social media users will be more suited to a much higher allowance, as 1GB can only cover around 20 minutes of Facebook usage.
How much data does the average person use?
With the rise of social media and 4K streaming, data usage has skyrocketed over the years. In 2022, the average consumption of data per user increased by 24% to 8GB per month, compared to 5.6GB per month a year earlier.
The adoption of 5G meant faster data connections became more readily available, potentially contributing to the rise in data usage.
Can I see how much data I use?
To make sure you don’t overuse your data each month, make sure to set up an account on your network providers’ app, where you can monitor your allowance. You can also check this in your device’s settings menu:
• Pixel users can head to Network & Internet > SIMs to see their total data usage
• Android users can go to Network & Internet > Internet > Settings
• iPhone users can visit Settings > Mobile Data or Cellular to view data usage
How many GBs of mobile data do I need per month?
Light mobile phone use will likely only need 1GB of data. This can cover occasional web browsing and messaging, but more demanding activities such as video streaming will require a higher data allowance.
If you like to occasionally check social media while connected to mobile data, 5GB gives you more space to do this without exceeding your allowance.
5GB can also support a larger number of streamed videos, but 4K streaming will likely use too much data.
To get the most out of video streaming and online gaming, you’ll need around 10GB. You could stream at a medium quality for approximately 30 hours before running out of mobile data.
Frequent music and HD video streaming will require a higher limit, and 50GB should cover this for most people. Between 1-2GBs is used up per hour for HD streams, so 50GBs gives you plenty of mobile data to enjoy regular 1080p videos on-the-go.
100GB will be more than enough mobile data for heavy phone users. You’ll be able to stream in 4K, game on-the-go and spend a substantial amount of time on social media before you reach your data limit.
Unlimited data will enable you to browse, stream, game and check social media as frequently as you like without a data allowance to worry about.
Knowing how much data you, your child or a friend needs is tricky, but with this guide you can break down regular phone habits to find a suitable monthly allowance. To help your children use their smartphone data wisely, check out our guide to the parental control apps you can install across different devices.