How Much Mobile Data Do You Need?


WhistleOut
17 January 2017

Smartphone owners are often concerned about mobile data: how much data they have and how much data they should be paying for. With the spectre of excess data usage charges looming, a little knowledge ahead of time is a good idea.

The data used by apps and web services is highly variable, but there are some general guides. We've taken some of the more popular services and uses for smartphones and recorded how much data they chew through.

Note: these figures are likely to vary depending on your own personal usage habits, as well as the phone you use.


500 MB plan 1 GB plan 2 GB plan 3 GB plan 5 GB+plan
Email
Uploading Photos
Facebook
Web Surfing

Gaming

Streaming Music



Streaming Podcasts




YouTube





500MB plans 1GB plans 2GB plans 3GB plans 5GB+ plans

Email

Basically nothing (about 50kb per message)

Emails use a tiny amount of data. Even if you're a big-time emailer that sends dozens per day and has your phone set to automatically refresh your inbox every half an hour you should be totally fine.

Keep in mind that attachments significantly increase the size of an email. This usually still isn't worthy of caution, but if you're sending and receiving a lot of attachments then it can stack up.

Luckily, the size of an attachment is usually displayed alongside it. This means you can make an easy, educated decision about whether to download it now, or wait until you're on a wireless network.

Uploading photos

Approx. 2MB to 4MB per photo (depends on camera and settings)

The size of your upload depends entirely on the photo itself and on the service you’re using. If your camera takes 12-megapixel photos (like on an iPhone), then you’ll be using somewhere between 2MB and 4MB to upload each pic to the web, assuming you're uploading it at full resolution. The higher the image resolution or the more detailed the photo, the bigger the file size.

If you're uploading to Instagram, and using the in-app camera function, your uploads are much smaller, thanks to the way the app compresses the data.

In any event, unless you’re uploading a huge number of photos it shouldn’t be a problem. Just make sure that if you have any auto-upload settings for a cloud storage service that you have it set to update over Wi-Fi only if you’re planning to go snap-happy.

Facebook

1 - 2MB per minute

Firstly, it's a good idea to disable auto-play videos in the app settings. Having it set to default on uses more data. How much more is entirely dependent on how many videos happen to pop up in your newsfeed that day.

Even with autoplay vids switched off, Facebook usage is quite variable thanks to the wide variety of stuff it encourages you to do. You browse photos, watch videos, click article links and chat. All of these things use a different amount of data per minute.

On average, we ended up burning through anywhere between 1MB-2MB per minute. A few times we exceeded a 3MB per-minute average, but this was pretty rare.

The average Facebook user apparently spends more than 8 hours per month online. That adds up to 720MB at 1.5MB per minute, if you only access your feed using your phone. That's most of a 1GB cap. Heavy FB users should definitely keep this in mind.

Web surfing

2.5MB per minute (but highly variable)

General web browsing on your phone will often result in variable data usage, going as low as 1MB per minute up to around 4MB or higher. It depends on what sites you frequent and how pages you view. Each page of a site loads separately, so behave of those tempting clickbait websites.

The average user reportedly spends around 48 hours per month browsing the web. Luckily, most of this is done on a laptop or desktop. At 2.5MB per minute you'll hit 1GB in under 8 hours, so try to use Wi-Fi or your home computer if you're a habitual web-surfer.

To lessen the impact of web browsing on your monthly data allowance, you can use apps like Pocket, which download articles while you're on Wi-Fi so you can read them data free when you're on the move.

Gaming

Variable

Some games use more internet than others, but most we tested roughly the same as Facebook (around 1.5MB per minute). However, many games you find on the app store won't use data at all once you've downloaded them.

If you’re playing an online multiplayer game then that number will increase, sometimes significantly. Unfortunately it’s up to you to figure out how much your title of choice is chugging down the MBs. Each game is unique; there's no magic standard.

Keep in mind that some of the more data-hungry titles can burn through your cap at an alarming rate. Don't simply assume that you're safe. Check your data usage before and after using a game to get a rough idea of the toll it takes on your monthly allowance.

Music streaming

1 - 2MB per minute

Most music streaming services, like Spotify, use around 1-2MB per minute for standard sound quality. That’s not too much, except that this rate holds constant for the entire time that the music keeps playing.

That half-hour trip to work will use in the vicinity of 30MB there and then 30MB home. Do this for all 20 work days in a month and you’ll burn through well over 1GB of data; possibly 2GB depending on the service you use and the quality at which you stream.

Some telcos are now offering data-free music streaming options with select plans, which can make a small cap go much further. Optus, for example offers data-free Spotify and Google Play Music, while Telstra offers data-free Apple Music.

Podcast streaming

60 - 100MB per hour

You’d think that podcasts would be like streaming music, but it's not that cut-and-dry. Songs only tend to last for around 5 minutes, meaning that you're usually only buffering around 5MB ahead of where you’re up to at most.

Podcasts can last for an hour or more. If your podcast’s app buffers the whole thing in advance that's around 60MB (data amount will vary depending on quality and compression).

The smart choice is to download your podcasts, rather than streaming them. This way you only have to download them once, rather than buffering and re-buffering multiple times. Where possible, do this in advance over a Wi-Fi connection. Most podcast apps will have a setting to download the most recent of your favourite podcasts automatically, then delete them once you've heard them.

YouTube, Netflix, and other and video streaming

2.5 - 6MB per minute

Streaming video is one of the biggest data killers you can have. Taking the average of several YouTube videos, we found that Standard Definition (SD) took up between 2-3MB per minute and High Def (HD) went as high as 6MB per minute on a 720p display.

6MB might not sound like much, but it adds up. If you have a small plan, you can burn through it very quickly. Try to stick to SD and avoid watching video if you're getting close to your data limit, or didn't have a big one to begin with.

Smartphone on Bus, Tick and Exclamation Mark images from Shutterstock


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