Mobile Data Usage Guide

Summary: A guide to help shed light on the danger areas of mobile data usage

By |

2GB per month 5-10GB per month 20GB per month
Email Yes Yes Yes
Web Surfing Maybe Yes Yes
Facebook Maybe Yes Yes
Online Gaming Maybe Maybe Yes
Skype Maybe Maybe Yes
YouTube Maybe Maybe Maybe
Downloading Movies No No No

The list of ways that mobile broadband has affected our lives is enormous. It’s enabled us to take the internet with us wherever we go. We play games on the bus, read news on the train, use email, connect with people via social media, sync our calendars etc.

Our increasing use of mobile data can often beg the question: how much of my monthly data cap am I using? It’s difficult to know the kind of services that one can use with impunity and which you need to be more cautious with. Going over your monthly data allowance can be an expensive and frustrating mistake It’s also one that many folk aren’t sure how to avoid.

We’ve created this handy usage guide to help you make some more informed decisions with your mobile data usage and hopefully avoid becoming a victim of the fees associated with exceeding your monthly quota.

Checking Your Monthly Data Usage

Many carriers will have ways for you to check your own data usage for each of your pay periods. Methods of checking change depending on which carrier you are with. Sometimes it’s simplest to check on a desktop browser, other carriers supply downloadable apps that make things a bit easier. It’s important to note that any usage you check may not be 100% up-to-date and can be anywhere up to 24-hours behind.

Each carrier will require you to create an online account using your mobile number in order to track your usage. We’ve listed the various internet account services of each of the major Australian providers below.

If your provider is not listed try searching their website for data usage trackers.

Beware of Video Content

The biggest and most common mobile data killer is video streaming. What most people don’t realise is that streaming a video uses up the same amount of data as downloading it would. In fact, it can be worse. Once the video is buffered you can watch it as many times as you want without incurring extra data usage, but if you close the stream and reopen it you’ll have to download it all over again.

In recent times many people have been stung specifically by an overuse of YouTube. This mightn’t sound surprising, but there is a reason behind it that isn’t directly to do with the fact that YouTube is the world’s largest distributor of video content. Some Australian carriers (as well as a few global carriers) didn’t used to count YouTube usage towards the monthly data cap. That meant that Aussie customers could often watch as much YouTube content as they wanted without it affecting their monthly cap in any way.

Unfortunately, this practice has recently ended. New contracts rarely offer free YouTube usage and as such YouTube streaming has become much more dangerous when bound by the traditionally low amount of data offered on mobile contracts. Be extremely cautious when using YouTube on your phone and wherever possible we recommend you not use the High Definition (HD) setting, even if your 4G connection can handle it.

Browsing is Probably Fine

Contrary to popular opinion, frequenting websites or social media platforms doesn’t actually use up much data, especially these days with most popular services offering themselves in mobile-friendly form.

Back when we made our original broadband usage guide, we tested the amount of data used by Facebook when engaged in heavy but not ridiculous use. With a combination of chatting, picture browsing, status checking and after following some posted links we found that the desktop browser version of Facebook used up only around 1MB per minute on average. Considering that there are 1024MB in a GB and most data plans offer multiple GBs we don’t really consider Facebook or other social media platforms to be a danger zone. Once again beware of any video content, but loading pictures and songs is safe.

It's important at this point to highlight some of the lesser data plans. Some offer under 100MB or even 50MB. That might sound like more than a user would need if Facebook only eats up 1MB per minute, but you'll need that data for other usage too, so be careful.

When browsing regularly we used up very little data. On average, it was about 400kB per minute (0.4MB). Of course every website is different so it’s impossible to put an actual number on expected usage.

Anyone with less than a 1GB cap should always be wary of any internet usage and as such we recommend that these people take note of their browsing. Everyone else should feel free to browse at their leisure, providing they haven’t already used up their cap by other means.

Skype and VoIP

Skype and other Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are fantastic. They’re essentially a way for you to make phone calls over the internet, thus not affecting your bill in terms of calls made. Instead, you'll be using your data cap.

Most contracts are designed to give you a large number of calls and texts with data generally coming last. As such we recommend that the average user stick to traditional phone calls, rather than using Skype. If you’re on your home’s WiFi connection then feel free to go wild, but when out and about you may as well use those calls that you already paid for on your contract, rather than using up data that you may need for something else.

Of course when calling long-distance VoIP services can’t be beaten on price, just try not to use VoIP as your every-day calling option when you’re on 3G or 4G networks.

Downloading Apps

Downloading apps should generally be fine. Some operating systems (OSes) won’t actually let you download a file over a certain size without connecting to a WiFi network or a computer in order to use a faster and more generous internet service. Some OSes will allow you to download large files, but will still warn you before the download begins.

We suggest always downloading large apps and games over a separate network. Some mobile games may download easily at first, but then require hundreds of MB of updating and activation once you open them. This is an easy way to completely kill a mobile data cap. Try to be on a WiFi network or when downloading bigger game titles and keep an eye out for download warnings when on 3G/4G.

Music Streaming

Music streaming, if used regularly, can eat up a surprising amount of a monthly cap. In general, a song can be anywhere between 4MB and 8MB. That doesn't sound like much, but some users listen to a lot of music every day. Multiply that by a month and you can be looking at a serious chunk of a mobile data cap. An easy example is that just 3 songs per day for 30 days is 90 songs.

90 x 4MB or 8MB is 360MB or 720MB respectively. These numbers are larger than many 3G and 4G data allowances. Try to be wary of this when getting your groove on.

Do the Math

As always individual experiences may differ so we suggest regularly checking how much of your monthly data cap you have used. You might even find that there’s a healthy chunk of unused bandwidth at the end of every month for you to play around with.

Video streaming and VOIP services are find in moderation, but be wary of overuse. Just about everything else is safe on most plans. Download over your home network whenever possible and be mindful of how often you engage in internet-related activities.

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