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These days, it's hard to avoid using data on your phone, with so many apps, websites, and streaming services right at your fingertips. So, it's important to understand exactly how much data you really need.
Otherwise, you may find your monthly phone bill quickly adds up if you're not careful.
But by working out your usage patterns, you can avoid overspending on your phone bill. And potentially save hundreds of dollars.
In this guide, we'll break down data usage and how to get the most out of your data plan whether you're a heavy user who's always on the go or someone who's normally connected to Wi-Fi.
Why do I need a data package?
Using cell phone data is a way for your phone to connect to the internet and various online services. Such as social media, email, and streaming video when there's no Wi-Fi connection.
You can break down data usage into three main categories. Which are browsing, streaming, and downloading.
- Browsing includes scrolling through Facebook, checking your email, and browsing the web.
- Streaming refers to services like Netflix, YouTube, or Spotify whether that's watching videos or streaming music.
- Downloading includes any files or apps you download to your phone.
MVNOs offer a variety of plans based on the amount of data you use, so it's crucial to understand the fine print when choosing a plan. The more data you use, the more expensive your monthly phone bill will be, and some plans may throttle your speeds once you hit your data limit. At the same time, others may offer unlimited data for a higher price.
How much data do you use?
Your personal mobile data usage can vary depending on certain factors. Like the types of apps you use, how often you use them, and whether you're connected to Wi-Fi or using cellular data.
An average smartphone user can use around 5-10GB of data a month, thanks to the availability of WiFi.
And the good news is that most cell phone carriers offer tools to help you keep track of your data usage, either through their app or on their website.
But before you choose your cell phone plan, you can use our free tool to estimate your monthly data usage.
Keep in mind that it's always better to overestimate your data usage. This can avoid getting hit with overage charges or throttling. But you also don't want to pay for more data than you actually need.
If you're a heavy data user who streams a lot of videos or uses data-intensive apps, you'll likely need a higher data plan. On the other hand, if you're mostly connected to Wi-Fi and don't do a lot of streaming, you may be able to get by with a lower data allowance.
4G LTE vs 5G data
The difference between 5G and 4G LTE is the data speeds. If you've got a mobile device that supports 5G, you can access faster speeds. However, the data consumption is still the same.
What uses the most mobile data?
It can vary on the length of time and tasks you're using data for. Here are some of the most popular activities and how much data is used per hour.
- YouTube - Around 300MB per hour
- Social Media - Between 80MB to 840MB per hour
- Browsing the internet - Around 60MB per hour
- Online gaming - Starting at 3MB per hour
- Streaming TV shows and movies - Around 250MB per hour
Streaming music and video can be the most data-draining activity. So, if you're sharing data with your kids on a shared data plan, you may want to check their estimated usage. Then, you can decide on what data allowance you'll need for your cheap cell phone plan.
How to check your data usage
Your current carrier may have an app or an online account that you can log in to check your data spending.
But if you're not sure what your average monthly data usage is, you can use our free data calculator tool. This can help you estimate your data usage.
Checking your Data Usage on an iPhone
To check how much data you're using on an iPhone, go to Settings > Mobile Data or Settings > Cellular.
Checking Your Data Usage on an Android
This varies depending on the Android phone you have. But it's generally Settings > Network & Internet > SIMS or Internet. If your data usage isn't showing, you may then need to click on Settings next to your carrier's name.
Reducing your data usage
With a better understanding of how much data you need, there are a few simple tips that can help save you money. Plus, avoid getting hit with overage charges or throttling.
- Connect to Wi-Fi: It's generally faster and more reliable than cellular data. And it doesn't count against your data usage. So, if you're at home, work, or any location with Wi-Fi, be sure to connect your phone.
- Adjust your app settings: Turn off auto-play for videos on Facebook or Instagram, which can use up a lot of data in the background. You can also adjust the quality of streaming services, such as Netflix or YouTube, to use less data.
- Watch your background apps: Some apps may be constantly refreshing and using data. Even when you're not actively using them. Take a look at your app settings and adjust them to limit background data usage or updates.
- Use offline features: Download movies or music when you're connected to Wi-Fi. You can then watch and listen without using your data. This can save a lot of data usage and give you something to do when you don't have access to high-speed data.
By following these tips, you can make the most of your data plan and avoid overspending on your monthly bill. Remember, it's always better to overestimate your data usage and be on the safe side.
Can I get a cheap unlimited data plan?
MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) offer the best cheap unlimited data plans.
If you really feel you need unlimited data, a low-cost carrier like Mint Mobile offers unlimited data at half the cost compared to one of the big guys.
If you want to opt for an unlimited data plan, just be sure to check the low-cost carrier's fine print. Unlimited never really means unlimited. Most carriers have a data cap, which, once reached, your speeds will slow.
Only you can estimate how much cell phone data you need each month. But it's easy to estimate your usage to make sure you pick the best cell phone plans to suit your needs.
And don't forget to check your data usage throughout the month regularly.
The cheapest cell phone providers offer real-time data usage tracking. This allows you to keep an eye on how much data you've used. As well as how much you have left. By checking your data usage regularly, you can make adjustments if necessary.
The best MVNOs offer flexible plans to work for you, so it's easy to amend your plan if your needs change.