How Much Cell Phone Data Do I Need?

There’s no other way to say it: we love the internet. Our affection for the web can easily be measured in gigabytes. The average person in the US uses around seven gigs of data each month. Keep in mind that this is average and accounts for seniors, who may use less than two gigs each month, and people who stream HD video, which can easily chew through 25+ gigs in just 10 hours. Adding to our data usage is that apps are more complex and often run in the background. While you can turn these off, you’re unlikely to remember each time you use your favorite apps.

So, the question remains: how much cell phone data do you really need? Is it two gigs, 10 gigs, or are you better off with an unlimited plan? Before you decide, evaluate how you use your phone’s mobile data. This guide will help you do just that by looking at some of the most common online activities and offering tips on cutting down on your data cravings.

How We Use Our Data?

According to Pew Research, just 52% of adults in the US used the internet in 2000. Jump to 2021, and more than nine out of 10 people login in some capacity. The heaviest users are the 18 to 29-year-old demographic, with an astounding 99% of this age group jumping on the information superhighway. That’s not a surprise. But, how, exactly, are we using our data? The answer is pretty simple: browsing, apps, and gaming.

Data Use With Common Apps and Activities

Web Browsing. Want to look up cat memes? Need to find out when Loki streams on Disney+? Chances are, you’re going to use your phone. Browsing the internet consumes approximately 60 Mb of data for every hour that you are sending and receiving information. Graphics-heavy sites may consume more, but websites designed specifically for a mobile phone or device will be scaled down to work quickly and use less of your precious data.

Streaming HD Video. Long gone are the days when we can’t watch our favorite shows wherever we are. But, streaming high-definition videos can quickly eat through around 2.5 GB each hour. Standard definition is a little less data-intensive at about .7 gigs per hour.

Facebook. Facebook still remains one of the most popular social media sites, but it’s also data-hungry. Using the Facebook app, you’ll use around 80 Mb of data every hour. Fortunately, Facebook recognizes that this is an issue and, in 2019, released Facebook Lite, which is a scaled-down version of the app that will only eat around 2 Mb for an hour of scrolling. 

Snapchat. Snapchat’s logo might be a ghost, but it is a highly visible app that uses about 1 Mb of data for every Snap. Knowing this, it’s easy to control how much data you use… As long as you don’t get carried away.

TikTok. Tik-Tok is free to download and watch, but it will cost you a mind-boggling 840 Mb each hour that you’re watching videos. Is it worth it? Probably.

Instagram. If you are a selfie King or Queen, Insta is probably your go-to. While it’s not as data-thieving as streaming HD video, loading all of those pictures, live feeds, and stories weighs in at a very heavy 720 MB per hour. While a quick run through your IG feed probably won’t put a heavy burden on your cellular data, it does add up quickly.

YouTube. If Prestonplayz, Smosh, and JackSepticEye are what’s on tonight and you are outside of your Wi-Fi, you should know that streaming YouTube on your 5G or 4G LTE network consumes around 300 Mb of data per hour. If you’re thinking you can’t possibly glaze over an entire hour of YouTube on your phone, think again. With more than 1 billion hours watched each day, the average mobile viewer clocks at least 40 minutes.

Netflix. Does anybody remember a time before Netflix? We do, but nobody wants to think about it. The price for binge-watching without annoying commercials: up to 1 GB per hour.

Spotify. Spotify and most other streaming music services are all over the place when it comes to data usage. While you will never use greater than 144 Mb an hour listening to your favorite tunes on Spotify, other services, including Apple Music and Tidal, the latter of which is a lossless streaming audio service, can eat to about 640 Mb in 60 minutes, or between 10 and 15 songs.

Gaming. If you’re hooked on Minecraft or Pokemon Go, you’ll easily breeze your way through 100 Mb after a few hours of play. Surprisingly, however, even some graphic-intensive games, such as Genshim Impact, were programmed to use as little data as possible, topping out at around 50 Mb an hour in co-op mode and a little less than half of that if you maintain your single-player status.

Check Your Data Usage 

Deciding how much data you need starts with knowing how much you are already using. Fortunately, all phones offer this option. It’s fairly quick and easy to take a peek at your current data usage. For an iPhone, click on the Settings button, click again on cellular, and then mobile data. The process will be similar for Android users; look for Settings and then Network. From there, you should see an option to click on Internet Data Usage. Some phones make it easy with Data Usage found directly under the Connections tab.

Ways To Reduce Data Consumption

The quickest and easiest way to quit using so much data is to set your phone to automatically log into hotspots or your frequented Wi-Fi zones. Because of the potential for a data breach, this may be problematic if you use your phone for work or keep a great deal of personal information on it. Your next option is to delete apps that you do not use. You can also enable the Data Saver option on your phone, which reduces app activity in the background.

A few other ways to reduce data consumption are to:

  • Only download music, books, and other media when you are connected to your home or work Wi-Fi.
  • Stream standard definition or forgo watching videos when you are away.
  • Turn off the autoplay feature on your apps, including Facebook.
  • Set your backup services to back up only connected to Wi-Fi.

Popular Cell Phone Providers And Plans

Verizon

Verizon offers several tiers of unlimited data as well as prepaid plans. You can also get a significant discount by adding multiple lines.

  • Start Unlimited: $30 – $70 per month. Basic data package with no overage charges.
  • Get More Unlimited: $50 to $90 per month. For the ultimate data user, includes 5G Ultra and Unlimited Premium Network access Plus Disney+ and Hulu for free.
  • Prepaid: $25 to $75 per month, with options starting at 5 gigs. 
See Verizon Plans

AT&T

AT&T offers unlimited and 4 gig plans that work for most budgets. Also available are multi-line discounts.

  • AT&T Unlimited Starter: $30 to $60 per month. Worry-free data usage with 5G access.
  • Unlimited Elite: $45 to $85 per month. If you’re looking for hotspot data, 30 gigs are included with this package along with HBO Max.
  • 4 GB Plan: $40 to $50 per month. Great option for those that don’t use much data.
View AT&T Plans

Xfinity

Xfinity offers shared pay-by-the-gig data as well as affordable unlimited plans.

  • Unlimited: $30 to $45 per month. Mix-and-match plans for every member of your household.
  • By-The-Gig: Sold in chunks of 1 gig for $15 or 10 gigs for $60 per month. Shareable and adjustable.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile recently acquired Sprint and has streamlined its mobile offering to three unlimited plans.

  • Essentials: Starting at $26 per month. The Essentials plan offers unlimited 3G hotspot data and is one of the most affordable options available today for families with four lines or more.
  • Magenta: Starting at $35 per month with taxes and fees included. With four lines, a family of four can enjoy 5 gigs of high-speed data and Netflix on the house.
  • Magenta Max: Starting at $43 per month and includes 40 gigs of high-speed data and Netflix for two if you purchase at least two lines.
View T-Mobile Plans

Visible

Visible utilizes the Verizon network and offers one plan: unlimited.

  • Visible Unlimited: $25 to $40 per month. For data on a single line, you’ll get everything for $40 per month; bring a few friends and receive $5 off per month.
Visible Plans

Mint

Mint Mobile lets you buy data by the gig or enjoy unlimited for about a dollar a day.

  • 4 GB Through 15 GB: $15 to $25 per month with unlimited talk and text plus nationwide coverage.
  • Unlimited: $30 per month and jumps on either the 5G or 4G LTE network depending on which is best.
View Mint Plans

Boost Mobile

Boost Mobile is a great option for those on a super tight budget that use less than a gig of data every month.

  • 1 GB 4G/5G Plan: $10 per month; available only to customers that bring their own device.
  • 5 GB 4G/5G Plan: $25 per month and can be used as a mobile hotspot.
  • Unlimited with 30 GB Hotspot: $60 per month, with the option to add an extra line for $40 per month.
View Boost Plans

Cricket

Whether you have one phone line or five, Cricket has a plan that can meet your needs.

  • Unlimited + 15 GB Mobile Hotspot: $32 to $60 per month. 150 GB of cloud storage included.
  • 2 GB Plan: $30 per month, no matter how many lines you have. Unlimited picture messaging. 
View Cricket Plans

Looking for the best Unlimited Data Plans? GammaWire has covered that before

Have a family that shares data? T-Mobile and Mint Mobile tops our list of family plan picks?

Should I Change My Plan?

Ultimately, the only person that can answer that question is you. But, if you are constantly hitting your high-speed data limit and get forced into snail-slow 2G speeds or are paying a substantial amount for an extra few gigs, then upping your plan to an unlimited might make sense. If you’re looking to save money, you may be able to get away with a prepaid data plan or, depending on your mobile services provider, may still have access to a few budget-friendly options.

Related  Reports

How to Find the Best Wireless Plans Near You

How to Find the Best Wireless Plans Near You

Overview: If you're looking for the best cell phone plans in your city, the below guide should help you figure out how to set a proper list of criteria to determine what wireless carrier you should choose for your next wireless plan. Introduction: It's rare that once...

read more
Cell Plans For Small Businesses

Cell Plans For Small Businesses

Best For 0-10 Employees Working Remotely : Verizon (see plans)Best for Bigger Businesses: AT&TBest for Flexibility & Pricing: T-Mobile Our phones are a huge part of our personal and professional lives these days. Not only are we in constant contact with our...

read more
Mint Mobile Review

Mint Mobile Review

When Mint Mobile got its start as a subsidiary of Ultra Mobile, it was just another plucky off-brand cellular provider. Since then, Mint has run some splashy ads, rebranded from its original “Mint SIM” moniker, and added the ever-charming Ryan Reynolds as an...

read more