Data Usage Guide
For many people, smartphones happen to be their primary means of connecting to the Internet. According to the Pew Research Center in 2015, 89 percent of smartphone owners used the Internet on their phone at least once over a week-long "experience sampling" study.
Because of the prominence of data, understanding what data usage is, how it works, and learning ways to reduce usage are vital in avoiding additional charges from cell phone providers and cutting down your phone bill. By the end of this comprehensive guide, you'll understand the amounts of data consumed by particular smartphone activities, as well as know how to reduce the amount of data you use.
What Is Data Usage?
Data usage is the amount of kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes that are consumed when you use online activities accessible by your smartphone, such as web browsing, video and music streaming, gaming, social media utilization, and more. The amount of data you use depends on the application and activity.
Cell phone plans measure usage by the data received and sent via your device. All companies offer plans with different amounts of data, where, if you exceed the monthly amount, they will add more, normally 1 GB, for a fee or reduce your connection speeds.
According to the Ericsson Mobility Report issued during June of 2016, the average American typically used roughly 1.4 GB of smartphone data each month throughout 2015, with the 2021 forecast projecting 8.9 GB of data to be used monthly. Another study, from analyst Chetan Sharma, pointed out that the average mobile data consumption (cellular) was approximately 2.5 GB per month during the first three-quarters of 2015; in fact, the site states that:
"An entire year's worth of mobile data traffic in 2007 is now reached in less than 75 hours."
So despite the differences in average amounts of data consumption, it's apparent that the average amount of data consumption will only increase with time.
Data Usage Types
As you are aware, there are plenty of activities that you can do online, so it only makes sense that each activity features their own levels of data usage. After all, some online activities will drain more data more than others. For example, streaming music via Apple Music weighs more on data compared to browsing the official Jokes subreddit.
Here is an overview of the data types and examples of activities for each, complete with tips on how to reduce the data amount consumed.
If you want a "too long; didn't read" version of this article, please refer to my chart below, which will reveal to you what data plan amount would be considered safe for your activities:
Simply put, web browsing is an activity for those who take pleasure in reading news stories, shopping, browsing forums, scouring for health information, and more. The majority of users rely on their smartphone for mobile web browsing, utilizing mobile browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and stock browsers like Samsung Internet.
|# of Hours of Web Browsing Daily||Total # of Hours Monthly||Suggested Data Amount|
|1 Hour||30 Hours||2 GB|
|2 Hours||Unlimited||4 GB|
|3 Hours||90 Hours||6 GB|
So how much data might you use each month? Well, according to Broadband Choices, one hour of web browsing typically takes up between 10 and 25 MB of data. However, I've done a little testing myself, and have revealed that I personally consume about 1 MB of data per minute on average, mainly using Reddit, which contains links to various sites, gifs, images, and more. I've avoided video sites like YouTube, as these sites tend to consume more data. It's apparent that some sites use more data than others due to a myriad of factors. For example, a news site like CNN may contain videos which would drain your data.
To back this analysis, certain major carriers like T-Mobile have provided approximate data usage amounts for each activity. For web browsing purposes, each page takes up, on average, 942 KB, which is close to 1 MB, so for simplicity's sake, let's round up to 1 MB. If you take about a minute per page, you would end up with an average data amount usage of 60 MB per hour. If you only browse the Internet for an hour per day, you will use about 1,800 MB of data. Translate that to GB, and you have 1.8 GB used per month.
Pro Tip for Reducing Data: If you're using a browser like Chrome, you can rely on the data compression feature. Open up Chrome and tap on "Settings"; from there, scroll to the bottom and press "Enable Data Saver."
Email is another online behavior that doesn't require much in the way of data usage, especially if you are only reading messages and responding to said messages with only text. However, if you upload and attach files like videos and pictures to the email, more data will be consumed.
|Emails Sent Per Day||Emails Sent Per Month||Suggested Data Amount|
According to Litmus on January 15, 2015, 53 percent of emails happen to be opened on mobile devices - that number has undoubtedly increased since then. In other words, emails have since shifted from PC to mobile, so it's good to understand the amount of data that emails rely on. So how much data would emails consume?
An FCC report states that 10 emails without attachments will only consume 0.1 MB of data. 10 emails with photo attachments will eat up 3.5 MB of data. Finally, 10 emails with non-photo attachments will take up 4.9 MB of data. If we average out all three types of emails, 10 emails will consume 2.83 MB of data, meaning that one email alone will take up 0.28 MB of data on average.
Those who send extravagant amounts of emails, like business owners, are far more likely to exceed a small amount of data.
Pro Tip for Reducing Data: If you're looking to save data while checking your email, you can disable the automatic arrival of new email with the email's auto-sync function.
Social media is one of the most popular methods of using data. Social media consists of many different platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. What makes accessing these platforms more convenient is the fact that you can download applications on your phone, providing you with easier, anytime access.
|Time Spent Daily||Time Spent Monthly||Suggested Data Usage|
|30 Minutes||15 Hours||2 GB|
|1 Hour||30 Hours||4 GB|
|2 Hours||60 Hours||6 GB|
However, these apps are very much capable of running in the background, accessing your location, providing you with notifications, and more. This means if you don't have your device connected to WiFi, these apps will continue to send and receive data.
The amount of data you may use depends on the social media app. As an idea, 15 minutes of Facebook browsing eats up 5 MB of data, uploading just one photo onto Twitter consumes 1.5 MB of data, and an hour's worth of video conversation via Skype uses between 72 MB and 180 MB. Furthermore and according to International Business Times, Snapchat may consume between 17 KB and 1.9 MB of data per activity, depending on the activity. An hour of Instagram eats up 2.2 MB of data, as reported by App Quest. App Quest also states that Pinterest uses roughly 0.16 MB per hour, but uploading posts and saving photos will undoubtedly use more data.
According to the Cisco Services Gauge, one hour of social networking may cost 90 MB, so we will be using this measure as our reference for the following chart.
Pro Tip for Reducing Data: You can reduce data usage by disabling the video auto-play function of certain social media apps. You can also search for an option within the app to reduce cellular data.
In 2000, Kodak announced that consumers around the world had taken 80 billion photos, which was a new record at the time. However, according to market research firm InfoTrends (as reported by the New York Times), the number of photos expected to be taken in 2017 is 1.3 trillion. That's an exponential increase over the span of 17 years, wouldn't you agree?
|# of Pictures Uploaded Daily||# of Pictures Uploaded Monthly||Suggested Data Amount|
|5 Per Day||150 Per Month||1 GB|
|10 Per Day||300 Per Month||2 GB|
|15 Per Day||450 Per Month||3 GB|
Well, whether you are using a social media website, email, or photo editing software, uploading pictures requires data in order to connect to that site's server. Furthermore, the more pictures you want to upload or the larger the files are, the more data it requires.
Instagram and Snapchat still happen to be the best social media apps for when you upload your photos (unless it's just for storage, then I wouldn't recommend it and would instead recommend a cloud storage provider), but they will undoubtedly consume a good chunk of data. Again, the amount of data consumed will depend on the size and quality of the photo. Instagram users will most likely find that one photo is equal to 250 KB of data, meaning that four photos would consume about 1 MB of data. However, a 5312x2988 resolution photo with a Samsung Note 5 may be between 2 MB and 5 MB in size.
For this chart, I will refer to the activity of uploading photos to a cloud, with high-resolution photos amounting to 5 MB in size.
Pro Tip for Reducing Data: You can always reduce the size (via compression) of the photo before you upload the photo.
Online gaming can require extensive data usage. Similar to social media, if you use an app to access the game, it can remain active in the background, using your data even when you are not playing it.
|Daily # of Hours Gaming||Monthly # of Hours Gaming||Suggested Data Amount|
|1 Hour||30 Hours||4 GB|
|2 Hours||60 Hours||8 GB|
|3 Hours||90 Hours||16 GB|
However, there are plenty of games that won't use data, unless you utilize its wireless features. Game data usage tends to vary depending on the game and the activity within the game. For example, Clash of Clans will use 0.5 MB when you enter a raid. Furthermore, it costs about 1 MB for every attack you make within the game. Games with features such as chat, multiplayer, and in-game purchasing are typically more demanding with data than games without those features. Furthermore, games with free-to-play properties, such as ads, will eat your data as well.
On average, most online games will consume about 1.5 MB of data per minute.
Pro Tip for Reducing Data: Avoid games that rely on ads as its form of monetization or focus strictly on games that can be played offline as well as online.
Music apps, such as Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music, require data as well. In the case of Pandora, you will need to listen to 36 hours of music to hit 1 GB when streaming at 64 kps. However, at 128 kps, the hourly data usage amount doubles, meaning that you will consume 1 GB of data if you listen to the service for a little over 18 hours. In other words, the better quality of the stream, the quicker the data is exhausted.
However, among the major streaming apps, including Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Apple Music, the average amount of data used amounts to roughly between 1 and 2 MB per minute, meaning that up to 120 MB of data may be used throughout the course of an hour. In other words, your device will be eating 1 GB of data after eight hours of music streaming.
|# of Hours Streaming Music Daily||# of Hours Streaming Music Monthly||Suggested Data Amount|
|1 Hour||30 Hours||5 GB|
|2 Hours||60 Hours||10 GB|
|3 Hours||90 Hours||15 GB|
Listening to podcasts differs from music in that songs can last five minutes or less while podcasts can run longer than an hour. If you stream the whole podcast, the app will use more data to buffer the program.
Pro Tip for Reducing Data: To reduce data usage, download podcasts and songs instead of streaming them. Some streaming services offer the songs as downloads so you can listen to them offline.
Furthermore, make sure to reduce the music app's streaming quality if there is such an option available. You can also always take advantage of cell phone providers that offer free music streaming as an add-on to their plans.
Streaming Sites YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix are hefty users of data - in fact, they consume data like its water. Unless you are in the middle of nowhere, bored out of your mind and desperate to watch a show, it's highly recommended to use these particular apps with a WiFi connection.
"Watching TV shows or a movie on Netflix uses about 1 GB of data per hour for each stream of standard definition video, and up to 3 GB per hour for each stream of HD video."
Because Netflix is the most popular app, we will use this (alongside the standard streaming setting) as a frame of reference for the chart below:
|# of Hours Streaming Video Daily||# of Hours Streaming Video Monthly||Suggested Data Amount|
|1 Hour||30 Hours||40 GB|
|2 Hours||Unlimited||10 GB|
|3 Hours||90 Hours||Unlimited|
Hulu, on the other hand, uses fewer amounts of data. Referring to Cordcutters News, streaming on the highest quality setting on Hulu will consume only 650 MB of data per hour.
However, if you happen to use Amazon Prime Instant Video, you may be in for major data consumption. PC Magazine reports that the lowest quality will eat up 0.6 GB of data per hour, whereas the highest quality is guaranteed to chew through 5.8 GB of data per hour.
And what about YouTube videos? Yes, YouTube videos devour data as well. Expect 120 MB of standard quality video and 360 MB of HD quality video to be used per hour.
Pro Tip for Reducing Data: Several video apps offer or will soon offer offline features, meaning that you can download the videos and watch them on-the-go.
Furthermore, you can always stick with cell phone providers that offer free video streaming as part of their plan package. Finally, if you absolutely must stream video while off WiFi, then please set your video quality to the lowest setting.
How Much Is 1 GB of Data?
Many cell phone companies provide a baseline offering of 1 GB (though lately, many companies are adopting 2 GB as the minimum) of data as part of their plans, but what does this amount actually grant you in terms of activities?
Users with 1 GB of data each month can actually perform quite a lot of activities. Simple cell phone use, such as sending a text or emailing, will hardly make a dent in your data unless you attach photos or videos to the message. Checking Facebook and using Google Maps for navigation also use little data. In fact, if you use Google Maps for navigation, you can always use the offline navigation function, saving more data.
Constant use of your cell phone's data will add up, however, and some applications are bound to be more data-intensive than others. Playing a mobile game, streaming television, and using Skype can drain a lot of data in short bursts. If you have a small allotment of data each month, be sure to use these services sparingly.
So, as a rough guide, 1 GB can provide you with:
- 5 hours of streaming live TV
- 1 episode of Netflix in 4K HD
- 17 hours of Internet browsing
- 8 hours of streaming videos on YouTube (using standard quality)
- Listen to 341 tracks on Spotify
- Video chat on Skype for a maximum of 14 hours
How to Check How Much Data You Have Left
You can check how much data you have used by performing the following:
For an Android phone:
- Tap on Settings
- Press on "Data usage"
For iPhone users:
- Go to "Settings"
- Select "Cellular"
You can also access this information by logging into your account via your cell phone provider's site or by checking the information included in your cell phone provider's app.
Data Overage Charges
If your usage exceeds the amount allotted in your plan, most providers will give you access to more data for a fee. Often, they will notify you before you approach your data usage limit, as well as inform you of what happens when you exceed said limit.
As you might imagine, exceeding your data limits often results in more expensive bills, so it's important to measure how you use data and find ways to lower it. Fortunately, many providers now carry "no overage fees" as an incentive for you to subscribe to them. Furthermore, you may face reduced data speeds after you exceed your data." If you believe you're spending too much on cell phones, you can check out our tips to save money on your cell phone bill.
Related: How to Avoid Data Roaming Charges
Tips to Lower Data Usage
The most effective way to lower data usage is to use a WiFi connection when at home or in an area with free hotspots. With this, you can stream as many videos or listen to as much music as you'd like. If you find yourself frequently exceeding your data allotment, we offer 5 ways to reduce your mobile data usage.
Another way to minimize data usage is to go to settings and manage data settings for each app. If you don't use the app often you can turn off the data that way it doesn't use it in the background. As expanded in previous sections, you can also lower the streaming quality for video and music services. For social media, you can visit each site to turn off autoplay videos, which can chew through data quickly.
If worst comes to worst, then you can always opt for an unlimited cell phone plan, which provides you with plenty of data for your online activities.
How Much Do Data Do You Need? Recap
Hopefully, this guide has helped you gain an understanding of the data that is consumed by the various apps and activities that exist on your smartphone. While some activities won't expend a hefty amount of data, others may destroy the amount you subscribed for.
Hopefully, you will have some idea of whether or not you should choose a higher amount of data as your plan, which you check out, thanks to our review of the best cell phone plans.