How to choose the right amount of mobile data for your needs
These days most mobile plans come with unlimited call and text credits, so a major factor to consider when you compare mobile phone plans is how much data is included.
Mobile phone plans can come with data inclusions ranging from as little as 1GB per month, all the way up to 200GB, for the data-hungry among us.
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all plan, so how do you work out how much data you actually need?
What is the average mobile data usage?
In December 2021, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reported that the average person on a postpaid contract uses 11.8GB of data each month, while the median data allowance on offer for mobile phone plans sat at 35GB per month.
For prepaid mobile plan customers, the average monthly data usage was 6.4GB per month, in contrast to the median data allowance being 30GB.
Of course, the average is the centre of either extremes: the light data users, and the heavy.
For some, 35GB per month might not be enough, leading to excess data usage charges that blow out their budget.
For others, it seems pointless paying for that much data when they only end up using a tiny portion of it.
So, in order to get a plan with enough monthly data for your preferences you’ll have to do a little research on your current habits.
How much data do apps use?
Let’s take a look at how much data some of the common web-based activities use, from WhistleOut. You can use these estimates to work out a rough idea of how many data-intensive habits you have.
How much data does surfing the web use?
A web browser like Google Chrome will use about 60MB of mobile data per hour. This is a pretty small amount, so it’s not usually a big concern for most people.
How much mobile data does video calling use?
Video calling apps like FaceTime can use about 3MB of data per minute, or about 180MB of data per hour – again, that’s not a lot of data compared to the inclusions you see with many plans.
How much data does Facebook use?
Depending on what you’re viewing on Facebook, you could use anywhere from 80MB to 160MB of data per hour, hitting the higher end when watching videos.
How much data does Instagram use?
Instagram uses approximately 720MB of mobile data per hour. That’s not a typo! With photos, videos, reels, and stories a fingertip away, there’s a heavy data toll for instant scrolling.
How much data does YouTube use?
YouTube uses about 300MB per hour, which might seem odd considering Instagram’s penchant for data munching. YouTube actually locks the quality of your streaming when you’re off WiFi, which might mean you won’t always get to watch 4K videos on the train to work or Uni, but for good reason.
How much mobile data do streaming services use?
Depending on which streaming service you’re on, the amount of data used per hour can differ drastically.
For example, Netflix data usage can start at approximately 250MB per hour at its lowest quality settings. From there, medium and high quality could use approximately 500MB and 1GB per hour respectively.
For a streaming service like Stan, its lowest quality setting will use around 570MB of mobile data per hour, moving up to 1.1GB and almost 3GB per hour as you increase your playback quality. That more than doubles for 4K content, with an hourly 4K stream hitting around 7GB.
How to check how much mobile data your apps use
Most smartphones can tell you how much data your apps are using.
If you have an iPhone, go to the Settings app, click on Mobile, and then scroll down to see the Mobile Data section. You should see a breakdown of which apps have used data, usually in the order of the most data used to the least.
This is a total amount, so you’ll have to reset your usage stats and check back on them after an hour or so of using your app like you normally would.
To reset your data usage stats, scroll down to the very bottom of the Mobile page on your iPhone and hit the ‘Reset Statistics’ button.
To check how much mobile data an app uses on your Android phone, go to Settings, and then to Data Usage.
If you can’t reset the data usage period, then make a note of the total data usage recorded, go and use your apps like you normally would for an hour, and then return to see how much that usage number has changed.
How do you know if you need more mobile data?
A great place to start is by looking at your monthly phone bill.
If you keep going over your data limit, resulting in a bigger phone bill every month, it’s probably a good idea to upgrade your data allowance.
But if you’re consistently under your monthly allowance, then you might be better off switching your plan to one with less data.
It all depends on what sort of data user you are.
What mobile phone plans are out there based on how much data you use?
We’ll look at three categories of data users based on the ACCC’s average data inclusion of 30GB per month.
Light data user
If you’re a light data user, you’ll be using between 1GB and 10GB per month. You likely aren’t streaming high-definition videos for multiple hours a day, but will use your phone for directions, emails, and a handful of other low-intensity data uses when you’re away from WiFi.
There are plenty of plans out there which sit in the low data inclusion range, which you can check out below.
Average data user
For the average data user, your usage will sit anywhere from 10GB to 40GB per month. You’re probably an avid social media user, music and video streamer, and use your phone regularly while out of the house or away from a WiFi connection.
As the average offering is about 30GB of data, average data users might have plenty of options for monthly data inclusions in the 10GB to 40GB range. Have a look at some below.
Heavy data user
If you’re a heavy data user, then you’re looking at data inclusions upwards of 50GB. A heavy data user will rely on their data for most things throughout their day, like scrolling through social media, connecting with others over video calls, streaming movies and TV shows, and more.
Heavy data users will most likely be looking at a larger monthly phone bill, but they’re likely better off paying for a large data allowance, than paying for pricey excess data charges.
Check out some of the plans on offer in the 50GB per month range here.
How do you know how much data you have left?
Most mobile plan providers will have an app you can check on your phone. It’s the same app you will often be able to use to recharge or buy a new plan, or manage your account.
You can also check your phone bill, where you’ll have a breakdown of how much data you’ve used, including any data that has been charged at excess usage prices.