How Much Mobile Data Do You Need?

21 November 2017

43% of Australians are exceeding their data plans on regular basis according to new research from Deloitte, which collectively amounts of over $30 million a month in excess charges. That's kinda nuts.

Mobile data is the most important part of our phone plans, but it's also the most expensive, and it looks like we're not really good at managing it. 

To help, we've got a few expert tips on how to pick a plan that's right for you, and a breakdown of how much data you'll need for your favourite apps and services.

Expert tips for managing your data

Look at your last mobile bill

If you're looking at a new plan, one of the best ways to work out how much data you need is to look at your last couple of phone bills. These should show you how much data you used, and if you paid any overages. If you paid excess usage fees, you almost certainly want to go with a larger inclusion plan.

Most providers also have a data usage app you can install on your iPhone or Android, but these won't always show you historical information, just how you're tracking through the month.

Consider your future needs

If you're signing a 24-month contract, need to consider not just your current needs, but your future needs as well. The latest ABS data suggests the average Australian used almost 50% more data between in the 2016-2017 financial year than the 2015-2016 financial year.

Even if 5GB might be enough for you now, you could end up needing a lot more before your contract is up - the ways in which we use our phones are constantly evolving - so you could end up getting hit with excess charges as your usage increases. While we don't think you should pay for much more than you need, it's worth giving yourself a buffer on a 24-month contract.

Get a plan with data rollover

A couple of providers are now offering plans with data rollover, which adds your unused data into your allowance for the next month. If you're only going over your data limit in some months, a little bit of rollover data could be enough to save you. Virgin Mobile, Belong, and Telstra offer data rollover on select plans.

Swap to prepaid

Prepaid plans are a fool-proof way to avoid paying excess charges. If you go over your cap, you can't use your data until you recharge or pay for a top-up. While you still have to pay more money for extra data, you're in control of your excess fees; you're not at the mercy of your telco's auto top-up.

Stay on Wi-Fi when you can

This might seem obvious, but when you're connected to a Wi-Fi network, you're not using your mobile data. If you're not using mobile data, your inclusions are going to last longer. Duh.

Data usage for popular apps and services

Below we've got a quick overview of how much data you'll burn through in an hour of using a couple of popular apps and services, the risk of blowing through your data cap, and how much data you'll want if you're regularly sinking your data into that service

Our suggested plans are based on using your service of choice for about one hour a day everyday for an entire month. If you're using more than one of these services regularly, consider opting for a larger allowance. Please note, these figures can vary depending on your own personal usage habits, as well as the phone you use.

  Data Per Hour Risk Suggested Plan
Online gaming From 3MB At least 1GB
Podcasts Approx. 60MB At least 2GB
Web Browsing Approx. 60MB At least 2GB
FaceTime Approx. 85MB At least 3GB
Facebook Approx. 80MB At least 3GB
Music Streaming Up to 150MB At least 5GB
Snapchat Approx. 160MB At least 5GB
Facebook Video Approx. 160MB At least 5GB
YouTube Approx. 300MB At least 10GB
Netflix From 250MB At least 10GB
Foxtel Now From 320MB At least 12GB
Stan From 570MB At least 15GB
Lossless Music Streaming (Tidal) Approx. 640MB At least 20GB
Instagram Approx. 720MB At least 20GB

How much data do I need for Web Browsing? 

Web browsing uses approximately 60MB per hour

The amount of data you use when surfing the information highway will vary from website to website. Naturally, image heavy websites will take a bigger toll on your cap than text only pages. In a mixed test, we found that you can expect to use somewhere around 60MB in an hour of browsing.

How much data do I need for FaceTime?

FaceTime uses approximately 85MB per hour

FaceTime is one of the most popular video calling apps around - mostly due to the fact its preinstalled on every iPhone - and fortunately, it doesn't use too much data. We found you'll tend to go through 85MB of data per hour of video call time.

How much data do I need for Facebook? 

Facebook uses approximately 80MB per hour for browsing, 160MB per hour for video

When using the official Facebook app, you can expect to use around 80MB of data per hour. This is slightly more than plain old web browsing, which isn't surprising, given how photo heavy Facebook is these days. If you're watching video through Facebook, you data usage will jump to around 160MB per hour, which is less than what you'd use when streaming on YouTube or Netflix. 

If you're hoping to cut down on your Facebook data usage, make you can set videos to "never auto-play" under "Videos and Photos" in the settings menu.

How much data do I need for Snapchat?

Snapchat uses approximately 160MB per hour

If you were to spend an hour intently sending and receiving Snaps, you could expect to use about 160MB of data in that time. Sending or receiving a single Snap will use about 1MB of data.

How much data do I need for Instagram?

Instagram uses approximately 720MB per hour

It might surprise you, but Instagram is probably one of the most data intensive apps you have installed on your smartphone. In our tests, we consistently burned through 60MB in around five minutes, which works out to be 720MB an hour. In fact, we were so shocked to find out how much data Instagram was wasting, we repeated our test five more times and got the exact same results.

If you're just opening the app, quickly flipping through your timeline to see the latest photos your friends have posted, you shouldn't use quite as much data as we did, but if you're actively browsing Instagram checking out photos, stories, and videos, you can go through a lot of data very quickly.

How much data do I need for YouTube?

YouTube uses approximately 300MB per hour

If you're watching YouTube on your smartphone on a 3G or 4G network, you won't have access to any quality options. This is a good thing, YouTube is looking out for you. You can expect to use around 300MB per hour of video watched.

How much data do I need for Netflix?

Netflix uses from 250MB per hour

Netflix has three quality settings for when you're on a mobile connection. Low will use 250MB per hour, medium will use 500MB per hour, and high will use 1GB per hour. Netflix does however let you save content to your phone for offline viewing, so if you're worried about using too much data streaming shows on your commute, you can always download an episode or two while you're connected to a Wi-Fi network.

How much data do I need for Stan?

Stan uses from 570MB per hour

Stan has three different quality settings when you're using the app on your phone. Low will use about 570MB per hour, medium will use around 1.1GB an hour, and high will use close to 3GB an hour. Out of the major streaming services available in Australia, Stan is the most data intensive.

How much data do I need for Foxtel Now?

Foxtel Now uses from 320MB per hour

Foxtel Now offers two different quality settings when you're on a mobile connection: low or auto. On low, you'll use around 320MB for every hour you watch, and on best, this can rise to as much as 920MB per hour.

How much data do I need for Music Streaming?

Music streaming uses approximately 150MB per hour

Music streaming data usage will depend on the service that you're subscribed to. However, in most cases, you'll never use more than 144MB, which is when you're streaming music at 320kps (roughly 12MB a song). Spotify lets you dial down the quality to 96kpbs or 160kps, which cuts your hourly data usage to 43MB and 72MB respectively.

Apple Music only streams at a single quality - 256kps - which is equivalent to 155MB an hour.

Google Play Music tries to stream at 320kbps, but adjusts depending on the strength of your connection. If you're getting a weak signal, you may find Play Music is using less data per song.

If you've got a subscription to a lossless music streaming service like Tidal, expect to use around 640MB per hour.

Most music streaming apps let you download songs to your phone, which can help in conserving data on the go. 

How much data do I need for Podcasts?

Podcasts use approximately 60MB per hour

As a rule of thumb, we've found most podcasts are approximately 1MB per minute; if you're wanting to listen to a 40 minute podcast, expect to use about 40MB of data. This will vary depending on the exact quality the podcast has been encoded in - some podcasts are larger, some are smaller - but in general, podcasts aren't too data intensive.

If you don't want to use data listening to podcasts on the go, most podcasts apps will let you download episodes for future listening while you're connected to a wireless network.

How much data do I need for Gaming?

Gaming uses from 3MB per hour

Games with online connectivity aren't normally too data intensive. In our testing, we found that both Hearthstone and Fire Emblem Heroes would use around 400KB in 10 minutes. More demanding games such as Pokémon Go can churn through a lot more data; in some cases, we've seen it use over 90MB in a day.

How much data do I need for App Downloads?

If you're looking to download apps over your mobile connection, its best to check out how large the app in question is before you start installing. Both the App Store and Google Play Store show app sizes, and will give you a warning if the app you're downloading is over a certain size.

While some apps are tiny, many day-to-day apps can demand a lot of data. The latest version of Facebook is a 170MB or so update, for example, and the latest version of Uber is around 125MB. While these won't break your cap if you need to download an app or an update on the go, we don't recommend doing so regularly. In most cases, we'd recommend saving app downloads and updates for when you're on a Wi-Fi network with a larger allowance.

How to check the data usage of other apps

On an iPhone, you'll need to reset your data usage statistics first. To do this, open the Settings app, tap Mobile, then scroll down to Reset Statistics.

After this, open the app you want to test, use it for as long as you want, then go back to 'Mobile' in Settings to see how much damage it's done. If the app is using too much data, you can toggle 'use mobile data for' to off. If you do this, the app will only connect to the internet when you're on a Wi-Fi network. 

On an Android smartphone, open Settings, then tap Data Usage. You might not be able to reset these statistics, but you can scroll down to the app you want to monitor, make a note of the current number, then see how much more its used after you're done testing.

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