Mobile Data Usage Guide
Mobile broadband is a fantastic thing. It’s enabled us to take the internet with us wherever we go, no matter how mundane or ordinary what we’re doing is. We play games on the bus, read news on the train, use email, connect to people via social media, sync our calendars etc. The list of ways that mobile broadband has affected our lives is enormous, especially for those of us that use it on our smartphones.
However, with all of these new perks comes a degree of uncertainty. How much of my monthly data cap am I using? It’s difficult to know the kind of services that you can use with impunity and which you need to be more cautious with. Going over that monthly data allowance can be an expensive and frustrating mistake, but it’s 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, except you use up that amount of data again every time you reload the video. Once the video is buffered you can watch it as many times as you want without incurring extra data usage, but once 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.
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 even after following some links we found that the desktop browser version of Facebook used up only around 1MB per minute. 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.
Similarly we found that when browsing casually we used up very little data. Not all websites have mobile-friendly versions and as such we’ve found data usage to be about double that of Facebook, on average. Of course every website is different so it’s impossible to put an actual number on expected usage. When we measured our stats we found a usage rate of around 2.5MB per minute, but just remember that your experience may vary from this.
2.5MB per minute of constant browsing is still a pretty low figure. Even so, 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 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. However, it does affect your data allowance if you’re using your mobile data connection.
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 standard, every-day calling option when you’re on 3G or 4G networks.
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 very easily. To be safe just try to be on a WiFi network or tethered to a computer when downloading in-depth game titles and keep an eye out for download warnings when out and about.
At the End of the Day
Once all is said and done if you’re worried about going over your data plan just make sure you check your usage regularly using whatever service is provided to you by your carrier. Video streaming and VOIP services are find in moderation, but be wary of overuse. Just about everything else is safe, but once again within reason. Download over your home network whenever possible and be mindful of how often you engage in internet-related activities.
We hope we’ve been able to give you a rough guideline of mobile data usage practices. 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.