How Much Mobile Data Do You Really Need?

How Much Mobile Data Do You Really Need?

Women reading phone in cafe.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
So it’s time for a new mobile data plan. Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. With mobile data plans, it’s typically not as easy as simply picking the cheapest one. So, should you just choose an unlimited plan and be done with it? Also no. You have to pick the right plan for your needs. Otherwise, it can end up being quite costly. The problem is there’s so much information out there that it’s difficult to know what is right and wrong. And with mobile data, you don’t want to be wrong. Luckily, we’re here to help you  pick your next data plan. So read on to see how much data you really need.

How Much Mobile Data Does the Average Person Use?

The average person used 2.9 GB of data per month in 2019. In 2020, it is expected that this number will increase to almost 4 GB. With the introduction of 5G and the ever-increasing demands of modern apps, average data use per person will continue growing rapidly. But before we go any further, let’s recap how data is measured. The first unit you’ll often see when looking at the size of downloads is the kilobyte (KB). It’s about 1000 bytes in size, so it’s one of the smallest units used to measure data. You don’t have to concern yourself with this size too much, as you’ll seldom find downloads that are still measured in KB. Things that are often still measured in KB include word documents, small PDFs, and short eBooks. Next you’ll find megabytes (MB). One MB is about 1000 KB, and this is the unit you’ll encounter most often. Because few apps are bigger than 999 MB, you’ll often see an app’s size expressed in MB. For example, the Facebook app is about 448 MB in size, while Netflix is close to 74 MB. Next up the rung you’ll find gigabytes (GB). One GB is 1000 MB, and if you’re into video streaming, you’ll see this unit often. Although few apps are bigger than 1 GB, you’ll find some from time to time, especially in graphics-intense games. Where you’ll see it most, though, is with streaming services, because high-definition video uses the most data. Now let’s look at how much data different uses need to run.

How Much Data Do I Need?

Now that you know how much data people use on average, you may be wondering if you should just get a plan that fits into that amount. That could be a mistake. For example, if you choose a plan that’s about the size of the amount of data used by the average person, you’ll have about 3 GB of data every month. Now, if your phone is connected to Wi-Fi the entire time, whether at home or at the office, you won’t use nearly that much. What does this mean? It means you’d be paying for something that you don’t use. Likewise, if you just go for the average but you love to stream videos, you’ll use far more than 3 GB. And then you’ll be paying out-of-plan rates, which are much more expensive than in-plan rates. In short, you should look at your needs and what you do with your phone when deciding on which plan to pick. So consider whether you stream, listen to music, or play online games, as well as how often you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. This will give you an idea of how much data you’ll need every month. With this in mind, let’s look at which activities use the most data.

Which Activities Use the Most Data?

Streaming is the biggest data user. To watch your favourite action movie in all its 4K glory, you’ll use about 5.8 GB of data per hour. If you scale it down to normal HD viewing, you’ll use about 2.5 GB per hour. For SD streaming, you’ll use 700 MB an hour. Notably, these figures are averages and can and do differ from source to source. For instance, Netflix has stated that HD videos use 3 GB of data per hour, and SD videos use 1 GB per hour. Likewise, the numbers for YouTube vary depending on the video resolution the person is using. Coming in second is audio streaming. You’ll use an average of about 72 MB of data per hour to listen to your favourite podcasts or songs. Remember, though, that this is only an approximation. For instance, streaming on Spotify on normal quality, you’ll use about 1 GB of data every 24 hours, while on the highest quality, you’ll use 1 GB every 7 hours. When it comes to social media, you can expect to use about 90 MB of data per hour. However, this number is based on scrolling through and reading posts. As soon as you start watching videos, it increases significantly. Although gaming is not necessarily a big data user, download sizes can be quite large. Many games come in at less than 1 GB; however, some are bigger than 1 GB, and others are even bigger than 2 GB. Once installed, though, most games use minimal data to run. Bringing up the rear are things like viewing and uploading images, reading emails, and non-data-intensive internet browsing. The main takeaway here is that if you stream videos or audio often, it may be worth considering a large data plan.

How Do I Limit My Data Usage?

Once you’ve chosen a data plan, remember that even if you’ve got a large plan, that doesn’t mean you have to waste data. You can limit your data to get the most out of your plan. You could, for instance:
  • Stay connected to a Wi-Fi network as often as possible.
  • Back up photos to Google Photos and iCloud only when your phone’s connected to a Wi-Fi network.
  • Download the music or podcasts you want to listen to or the videos you want to watch while your phone is connected to Wi-Fi. If you have to listen to music or watch videos when you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network, use lower-quality options.
  • Turn off video autoplay on all your social media apps.
  • Check your phone’s settings to see which apps use the most data, and either uninstall those you don’t use much or change their settings to use only Wi-Fi as a data connection.

How Do I Check My Mobile Data Usage?

If you want to make sure you’re staying within your data usage limits, both Apple and Android phones have an option in their settings to check your usage. You’ll also be able to reset your usage every month to help you stay on top of it. If you want more accurate figures, most mobile providers allow you to check your usage either online or through an app.


Now you have a straightforward guide to help you figure out how much data you really need. So consider what you need carefully, and decide on the most appropriate plan for you. If you need any other information about data plans or call plans, or you have any other wireless questions, WirelessWizard is here to help. With a focus on improving your productivity, it is the ultimate authority on optimizing every aspect of your wireless life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Constitutes a Heavy vs. Light Data User?

Knowing average data usage, you can argue that a heavy data user is one who uses more data than the average user. Accordingly, a light user is someone who uses less data than the average user. But that could get complicated, as it’s often difficult to tell how much data someone actually uses. So it’s easier to define a heavy user as someone who does a lot of video and audio streaming and likes to download apps frequently. A light user is then someone who only occasionally streams video or audio and downloads new apps.

Should I Leave Mobile Data On All the Time?

Many apps use data even if you’re not using them; thus, they can significantly increase your usage over time. Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on your data plan. If you have an unlimited plan, it does no harm if your mobile data is on all the time. But if you want to limit your data usage, you can switch off your data and only use it when necessary. Another option is for you to switch it off completely and rely solely on Wi-Fi for your data needs.

What Counts as Data Usage?

In simple terms, data usage occurs any time your phone is using the internet to do something. So, although you may not be actively using your phone, it could still be using data.

Does Texting Use Data?

Generally, texting doesn’t use data. Be careful, though, with services such as iMessage, WhatsApp, and Telegram. Although the messages sent on these platforms resemble texts, they use data.

Get Untangled With Our Latest Articles

Do You Need Antivirus Software For Your Smartphone?
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Smartwatch
Apple CarPlay vs Android Auto
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments