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Data usage is when you use your mobile device for tasks like browsing the internet, streaming videos, send emails, while you're not connected to Wi-Fi.

Understanding your data usage can help you pick the most suited cell phone plan for your needs. And knowing how much you use each month could save you hundreds of dollars on your cell phone bill.

In this guide, we'll break down and explain data usage, how to save your data usage, and how much you really need.

What is cellular data usage?

Data usage means how much mobile data you're using on your phone when you're not connected to the internet or Wi-Fi.

Whether that's browsing the internet, streaming movies, or playing games all of these things are using your phone's data.

Unlimited data plans have become more popular over the years, taking away any worries about the additional costs of going over the monthly data allowance. However unlimited doesn't always mean unlimited and you could save hundreds of dollars by choosing a low-data plan.

What uses mobile data on phones?

There're a number of things that use data including;

  • Streaming movies, tv shows, and music
  • Online gaming
  • Downloading media and apps
  • Browsing the internet
  • Sending and receiving email
  • Using social media apps

How much data do I need?

How much data you'll need will vary depending on a number of things.

These days it's rare to be far away from a Wi-Fi connection, so on average, we use between 3-5GB of data a month.

But if you're a heavy data user and rely on your cell network rather than an internet connection it could be worth getting a plan with a large data allowance.

Most low-cost carriers, like Mint Mobile or Red Pocket, offer unlimited data plans, however unlimited never really means unlimited. Often carriers still have a data allowance that once reached your speeds will be slowed.

Using our data usage calculator can help you estimate your monthly data amount so you can decide if you want to choose an unlimited plan or opt for a set data limit.

What is data allowance?

Your data allowance is the amount of mobile data you use within your monthly billing cycle. If you go over your data limit you could find yourself with an additional data charge on your bill or slower internet speeds.

When you purchase your cell phone plan you can choose from a range of data allowances including unlimited data. However, most unlimited data plans still have an allowance that once reached your speeds will be reduced.

How to reduce data usage

To help reduce data usage there are some things you can do to conserve data;

  • Wi-Fi Connection: Whether you're at work or in a coffee shop make use of local Wi-Fi connections
  • Software Updates: Only do software updates when connected to a Wi-Fi network
  • Download on Wi-Fi: Watch movies, tv shows and listen to music you've downloaded
  • Airplane Mode: Pop your phone on airplane mode so it's not connected to the cellular network
  • Background data usage: Close apps to save data when you've finished with them

Managing your mobile data allowance

Most carriers should provide you with an account login or an app that allows you to track your mobile data usage each month, so you can make sure you're not going over.

The best thing before signing up for a contract is to estimate how much data you may use within a 30-day period. If you're away from home and traveling regularly, you'll likely use more data than if you spend the majority of your time at home or in an office.

By setting your expectations you can purchase a plan with the right amount of data for you. You may not need unlimited, so you could save money by picking a set data limit.

Plus if you love streaming videos and music, some carriers offer data-free streaming to help you save your data for when you really need it.

What is data roaming?

Data roaming is used when traveling to areas your network doesn't cover. They'll have an agreement with a local network that can offer you service at an additional cost.

To prevent using your data abroad you can pop your phone onto airplane mode or turn off mobile data to make sure you don't go over your limit or get charged roaming fees.

Here's how to turn off your mobile data on an iPhone and Android:

On an iPhone you need to go to Settings on your phone > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Click to turn Data Roaming off.

On an Android phone click on Settings > Connections > then Mobile Networks > then click to turn off Data Roaming.


When you use your mobile data to access the internet to stream movies, and play games when you're not connected to Wi-Fi, that's eating away at your cell phone data usage.

If you travel a lot your data usage may be more, than someone who is at home or in an office most of the day.

Estimating your monthly data usage can help you save hundreds of dollars on your cell phone plan, as unlimited data isn't always unlimited. So choosing a plan with a data allowance that covers your monthly usage can give you more bang for your buck.

Data usage FAQs

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