When you’re shopping for an internet plan, the amount of data you need each month plays a major role in choosing the right plan for your household.
Nowadays, many families are turning to unlimited data internet plans to make sure the internet is ‘always on’, just like electricity and running water. The thing is, there is money to be saved if you calculate your usage and find the right plan. Depending on the provider, you’ll find there is often a $10 to $20 per month price difference between unlimited data plans and cheaper alternatives.
The easiest way to figure out how much data you need is to look at old internet bills. If you don’t have these handy, then below we have examples of the things people tend to do online, and how much data it takes to do them.
|Downloading Movies & TV|
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General web browsing and email
The average Australian spends around 48 hours browsing the web per month at about 2.5MB per minute. This adds up to about 7GB per month per person in your household.
"Web surfing" covers a lot of online activity. Broadly speaking, you can easily use around 2.5MB per minute when web browsing on a laptop or desktop, taking into account all of the images, videos and animated advertisements on web pages these days.
Email uses up tiny amounts of data and is fine on any plan. Obviously you will use more data if you are trading large file attachments, like pictures and videos.
Be sure to check the size of any attachment and make note of how regularly you receive them. Make sure it's something you would normally receive from a contact you trust. Blindly clicking on file attachments is a good way to get your computer infected with a virus.
Netflix and other streaming TV services
Standard Definition (SD) viewing expect around 700MB per hour. For High Definition (HD) streaming expect around 3GB per hour.
Streaming TV services will probably use up more data than any other single service each month. Regardless of whether you use Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Australian alternatives like Stan or Foxtel Play, or even YouTube, streaming video is your number one data hog.
We've published a detailed article covering how much data each month you're likely to need for Netflix and similar services, the basic gist of which is: a lot.
Unless you fiddle with the settings, Netflix will automatically choose the best resolution stream based on the speed of your connection. For most people, this will be an SD or HD stream.
As an example, if you binge-watch the first season of House of Cards (13 episodes at about 50 minutes each) you will use 65GB of data.
If you've got a fast ADSL2+ connection, cable internet, or are connected to a high speed NBN plan, you may also be able to stream video in 4K resolutions through Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Streaming in 4K can use as much as 7GB per hour.
Renting movies & TV shows
A standard length movie on iTunes requires 4GB for a HD file and about 1.5GB for a SD copy. TV shows about 1.5GB for HD and 800MB for SD.
Renting movies and TV shows through services like iTunes, BigPond Movies and Xbox Movies can be a huge hit to any download cap. Often, you will be given the size of the file in the product description, and you might be surprised how much data you'll spend on a single title.
It is pretty much the same across all online video stores, so you will want to keep this in mind before you buy or rent.
Facebook & social media
At 2MB per minute, an everyday Facebook user can use around 2GB per month.
Social media is totally fine if you're on a decent-sized cap of 20GB or up, but on those smaller ones it can use a surprising chunk.
During the course of casual Facebook browsing – chatting, browsing photos, status checking and clicking a few links – slightly under 2MB of data was consumed per minute.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claims the average US user spends around 40 minutes per day on the service. Do the math and it works out to around 20 hours per month.
If you have kids it stacks up. Two teenagers would be using a good 4GB per month just with Facebook, assuming that they were only average users.
For every hour of 720p video footage on YouTube you're using up around 2.2GB of data.
A common misconception about video streaming is that it doesn’t use up as much data as downloading the same video would. In fact, it uses about the same amount of data - each time you stream it.
If you refresh the page, or close it down and come back later to re-watch it, chances are you'll have to download it all over again.
We logged how much data YouTube uses for a 5 minute video, using the more common resolutions. As you can, once you watch an hour of YouTube videos, the results are pretty much the same as Netflix.
|Data used in 5 minutes||8.3MB||13.3MB||20MB||37.5MB||62MB|
|Data used in an hour||480MB||800MB||1.2GB||2.3GB||3.5GB|
In 2012, the average YouTube viewer watched 6 hours of video per month. YouTube has since stopped publishing this statistic, but does claim that the number of hours watched by users goes up by 60% each year.
It also goes beyond YouTube. Videos are embedded in everything from online newspapers to review sites and even Facebook. It all adds up, so be mindful if you have a limited cap when it comes to video content.
- Some games can use up to 50MB per hour of play
- Patches and updates can be several GBs each
Gaming is a hugely variable set of data. Depending on what game you are playing your usage will change, but it's all still relatively low. If your parents start blaming your gaming for going over the cap, don't turn around and tell them they're wrong. In fact, you may be more of a culprit than you imagine.
Some popular titles only use around 20-25KB/s putting them at around the 1.5MB per minute mark -- similar to Facebook and regular internet browsing.
The biggest consideration these days is for those of us who buy games through online stores and download the game files. These files can be 50GB or more, meaning a single new game could wipe out a family's internet for the month if on a modest data plan. Even after the initial game download, updates and patches can be several Gigabytes in size each.
Skype and VoIP
A standard voice call on Skype only uses about 360KB per minute. You would need about 48 hours of straight voice calls per month to approach just 1GB.
Video calls use more and it varies largely depending on the quality of the image being sent. It's very close to YouTube and other video streaming services in this respect, around 40MB every 5 minutes, or half a GB per hour. Most webcams are quite a bit under this, however.
Bits & Bytes
To make things super confusing, Data Downloads and Data Speeds are calculated using two different measurements. Keep an eye on which letters are capitalised.
- MB: Downloads are measured in bytes: Megabytes (MB), Gigabytes (GB), etc. Each increment is 1000x larger than the one before it. So if you download a 500MB file, you are using 0.5GB of your monthly data allowance.
- Mbps: Speed is measured in Megabits per second. There are 8 bits in a byte. Therefore, if you connection speed is 100Mbps, you can download 12.5MB of data per second. If a movie you download is 1GB in size, it will take 80 seconds to download at this speed.
If you want to keep track of your usage when downloading, the speed of your connection has no bearing on how much data you are using. The important information is the size of the file being downloaded. This is what will affect your cap.
What happens if I go over?
Fortunately, going over your monthly download limit isn't as big a deal as it once was. While what happens vary from provider to provider, the majority will simply slow your speed to the end of the billing month. Some providers will however charge you more, but at a surprisingly reasonable rate.