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It’s a hurdle we are all faced with at some point. The monthly phone bill pops up on email and…ouch, you’ve been hit with those ghastly charges for exceeding your data limit once again. Gauging exactly how much data you need, and marrying it with value for money, can be a tricky balance to strike when pondering your next mobile contract.

Hopefully, this basic guide to data usage can save your wallet from ever being stripped of all its contents due to a mobile bill again.


What much data do I use?

Judging exactly how much data certain applications use is not easy, but they do tend to stick to a broad scale. What functions you use on your smartphone or tablet, and for how long, will differ from person to person. Tracking how often you use each of the functions below forms the crux of detailing how much data you need.



If you do find yourself creeping over the monthly data limit, chances are it’s due to chewing through too much video content over 3G or 4G. Video can swiftly demolish an entire months allowance in only a couple of hours, so it’s important to limit your viewing based on how much data you’ve got. The most popular streaming sites list their data usage online, with a quick summary of that below.



Low quality (Low)- 0.3 GB per hour

Standard Definition (Medium)- 0.7 GB per hour

High Definition (High)- 3GB per hour

Ultra High Definition (Ultra)- 7GB per hour


BBC iPlayer (quoted directly from their site):

“60 minutes of video may consume between 50MB and 350MB of data depending on your available connection speed.”


Sky Go:

Good internet connection on Low quality video- 336MB per hour

Good internet connection on High quality video- 468MB per hour

Fast internet connection on High quality video- 687MB per hour


Given that most of us will plump for 1-2GB of data for an entire month then, it’s easy to see how your entire allowance can disappear in a matter of hours. We’d offer a momentary caution over those BBC and Sky figures, as they seem to be significantly lower than that of Netflix. Taking Netflix as a more realistic guide, apply these figures to any video streaming you undertake on your smartphone or tablet, including the likes of YouTube or Twitch.


Also worth consideration is your available internet connection at the time. Apps such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer will automatically adjust the quality of the stream based on the quality of your current internet connection. A higher quality of stream means greater amounts of data consumption.



Another data crunching application is the streaming of music. Whilst it won’t run down your allowance as fast as video streaming, the amount of time a lot us spend listening to music means we have to keep a firm eye on our usage levels.

Spotify, the world’s most popular music streaming site, have a tiered system of musical quality. The higher you climb up the ladder of harmony, the greater levels of data you will consume.



Normal quality- 96kbps

High quality- 160kbps

Extreme quality- 320kbps


The figures above are generally a good guide for most streaming service out there. They do however, require some further calculation, as how much data you use per second is not a whole lot of use.



Normal quality- 42MB per hour

High quality- 70MB

Extreme quality- 140MB per hour


In general, you’re only likely to be operating on normal quality over your mobile connection. Indeed, extreme quality musical streaming is exclusively limited to Spotify premium users, and most likely will only be used on desktop systems with beefy broadband connections. Still, at 42MB an hour, a full day of streaming whilst at work can tear a significant chunk of your monthly data allowance.



Obviously, there is no definitive answer to how much data apps will use. There are millions of apps, and millions of potential data uses for each. Generally then, it’s probably best to consider how often that particular app needs to stay online. Smartphone games for example, can come in either an always online mode (which could be anything between 5MB to 20MB per hour of play). Other, more 3D graphically demanding games, will come with huge update files every so often. To avoid a hefty data hit, ensure your updates are only undertaken when using Wi-Fi.

Skype is a little trickier to pen down. Based on video calling, data usage increases based on video quality and the number of people taking part in the call. Skype have laid out a basic guide for users, but at 300kbps for a one-on-one video call, it can be pretty data intensive. Convert that to an hourly chat (131MB), and you might just be forced to cut short that catch up with your globetrotting friend abroad.




Web Browsing, Email and Social Media

Finally, you can relax. The remaining categories of mobile usage do tend to place a little less stress on your data use. Webpages themselves come in different sizes, with inbuilt graphics, ads and interactive objects taking increasing amounts of data to load up. At an average of 1MB per page, you’ll be hard pressed to use more than 20-25MB for an hour of browsing. Email is largely similar, with increases in usage occurring from any large files you might download that are contained within emails.

Social Media is also a predominantly easy-going task, particularly if you’re just scrolling up and down the newsfeed of Facebook. Again, tasks such as viewing photos (0.5MB-1.5MB per image) and videos do pump up the usage. If you’re big on updating your profiles on the move, uploading photos (roughly 5MB per image) can begin to tally up.


Get Smart

A plethora of alternative figures have been thrown out so far, the world of data usage is a pretty confusing one. So, a few handy tips can aid in keeping a lid on any spiralling costs.

Thankfully, public Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more commonplace, as is their usability. If you’re a BT broadband customer for example, you can take advantage of their 5 million hotspots UK wide. Similarly, subscribers to Virgin Media, EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three can access free Wi-Fi at 150 London Underground stations, a number which is on the rise. Thankfully, most modern smartphones will now automatically connect to Wi-Fi hotspots they recognise, so it pays to keep your Wi-Fi capability on and the burden off your 3G or 4G connection.


Almost all of the most data intensive tasks you’ll find on your mobile can be got around by using your Wi-Fi. Streaming sites such as BBC iPlayer and 4OD (although interestingly not Netflix) have the capability to pre-download programmes to watch later. Save yourself a lot of data and download beforehand.

Similarly, musical streaming does often contain an offline mode. Spotify will allow playlists to be downloaded (again, over Wi-Fi) and listened to regardless of internet connection. This is however, only available to Spotify premium users, coming at £9.99 a month.


Above all, keep an eye on it. Download your provider’s app and keep tabs on your daily use. Take advantage of data alerts. EE for example, will text you when you have 20% of your allowance remaining.

Going over your limit can be a costly mistake, so be vigilante on any data-intensive apps you might be using on a daily basis.



  1. There’s no real way of guessing until you start using your contract and monitor your real usage. Many mobile providers allow you to upgrade your contract part way through if you constantly go over your limit. Another problem is that when people upgrade their phone/contract it will almost certainly have faster connection and be capable of doing more so looking at past use can be misleading too.


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