Advice Guide: How much mobile data do I need?

Mobile internet is now an important part of daily life for most people, with people sending emails, downloading pictures, streaming music, navigating with GPS and even watching live TV on the move. It’s important to understand mobile data and how much you’ll need in order to choose the right mobile data plan for you, not paying for data that you don’t need and ensuring you don’t overspend by exceeding your allowance.

Use our quick guide to work out what type of mobile data user you are, and to calculate how much data allowance you will need.

What do KB, MB and GB stand for?
These are units measuring the digital information you download or store on your phone. Most mobile phone tariffs will have a limit of a certain amount of MB or GB of data that you’re allowed to download per month.

• KB = Kilobyte
• MB = Megabyte, made up of approximately 1000 kilobytes.
• GB = Gigabyte, made up of approximately 1000 megabytes


How many MB or GB will I use for mobile phone internet?
This can vary dramatically from person to person, so it is important to gauge the type of user you are to work out how much mobile data you are likely to use. Here’s a rough guide to what kind of user you might be:

Low user“I’ll use it every so often, to keep up with friends and interesting news”
You like to look at the odd web pages, and check your email, Facebook or Twitter reasonably often. You don’t play a lot of games on your phone or download music directly on the phone. You may occasionally use at your mobile for chatting online or watch the odd video clip. You are unlikely to use internet on your mobile for more than an hour a day.

Medium user- “I need it for my email and browsing the internet when I’m bored”
You download email daily to your phone, spend quite a bit of time browsing the internet, and download a few games or applications a month. You like to watch video on online streaming sites such as iPlayer or YouTube every so often, along with downloading a few songs now and then too.

Heavy user“I rely on my phone for both work and entertainment”
You send and receive quite a few emails daily, often with attachments. You watch videos online several times a week and are likely to download a lot of applications and games as well as music for your phone. Additionally, you may rely on your mobile internet for work as well as social communication and need to use your phone for internet access several hours daily.

Low users will probably benefit most from a tariff with more inclusive minutes and texts and a lower internet allowance, around 100MB. Medium users will most likely find that 500MB is more than enough data allowance, whilst we would recommend that heavy users would need tariffs with at least 1GB of data allowance.


How much data do I use when downloading an app or checking my email?
Some actions are easier to measure than others. When you select an app to download, the size of the file is normally clearly stated so that you can decide whether to download it using your data allowance. Your phone will also often warn you if you try to download a large app whilst connected to mobile broadband rather than WiFi.

Other functions use a varying amount of data. For example, an email you download might have a large attachment file, or a webpage may have a lot of photo and video content, which would take more of your data allowance to download. To help you understand mobile data usage better, here’s a rough guide to how much data is used by different mobile internet functions. The numbers in brackets are how many times you would be able to complete each activity with a 500GB data allowance.

• Download a webpage: 100kB (5000 pages)
• Check your email: approx. 100kB per email (50,000 basic, 1,000 with attachments)
• Instant message: 100kB per Instant Messenger session (500 hours)
• Download a document: 100kB per page (5000 pages)
• Download a song: 5MB per music track (100 songs)
• Download a photo: 2MB per photo (250 photos)
• Watch a video: 1MB per minute of video watching. (1 hour of watching)


Can I get an internet data allowance with a pay as you go phone?
Many network providers now offer pay as you go mobile phones which can be topped up with internet allowance as well as minutes and texts. You can also get SIM-only contracts, often much cheaper than one with a phone included, which you can use with any compatible handset.

How much does it cost if you go over your mobile data allowance?
How much it is likely to cost you for going over your allotted mobile phone internet limit is variable, depending on which tariff you have chosen, and which network you are with.

In most cases, it is very expensive to exceed your mobile data limit, so it is important to check these charges before signing up to a new contract as some networks can charge £2-£3 per MB of additional data. If you find that you frequently exceed your data allowance, it is probably best to upgrade your tariff or add extra data allowance for a set fee by speaking to your network.


What is a fair use policy?
Some mobiles will simply limit your internet usage rather than charge extra – called a ‘fair use’ policy.

This means that you will not incur an extra charge when you use up your monthly allowance, but you may be penalised if you go over what the network decides is ‘fair’. This varies according to your network provider and may even apply to tariffs with ‘unlimited’ allowance – always check the terms and conditions.

Depending on your network provider, this may only mean that your internet speed will be considerably reduced, so you will not be able to stream long videos or download large applications.


Does 4G use more of my mobile data allowance?
No, 4G takes the same amount of data to, for example, load a webpage or download an email. However, with the super-fast speeds available with 4G networks, you may find that you use a lot more mobile data. It is important to consider this when choosing a 4G tariff, as you may find that you need a higher data allowance than a previous 3G contract if you intend to use the 4G connection for high data consumption activities such as streaming high-quality video content.
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