What is Mobile Data Usage?

The majority of mobile phone contracts provide the user with an internet usage allowance.  However, many users struggle to understand how much 500MB or 1GB converts to in real terms and how much data their normal, everyday tasks use.

You will find that most activities on modern phones will use up data.  The only exceptions to this rule are text messages and phone calls.  It may be hard to believe, but even when you aren’t using your phone, it will be consuming data in the background.  For example, your news app will update itself from time to time and your e-mail account will automatically check for new messages periodically.

Most mobile plans include a limit of 500MB, which is usually suitable for most users.  A typical user will use around 10MB every day (approximately 300MB per month).  However, if your contract is limited to 500MB per month, you should be careful to avoid activities that use a lot of data, such as:

  • Downloading or watching videos (e.g. YouTube, iPlayer);
  • Connecting your phone to a computer via the 3G connection;
  • Using Voicer-Over-IP apps, such as Skype or FaceTime; and
  • Downloading music or listening to online radio

Vodafone have given an idea of the typical values of various activities in the following table:

HOW MUCH DATA DO YOU USE?
Email 100 sent/received with no attachments 2.5MB
Facebook 15 minutes, no video streaming 5MB
Google Maps Ten minutes 6MB
YouTube Four-minute music video 11MB
Radio Ten minutes 15MB
Email Ten sent/received with attachments 18MB
Web browsing 100 pages 20MB
Web browsing One hour 26MB
TV 30-minute episode 90MB
Skype video call 15 minutes 540MB

If you are concerned that you may be approaching your data usage limit, or want to reduce your consumption for any other reason, the following tips should help:

  • Use Wi-Fi when you’re at home. Whenever you’re at home, connect to your Wi-Fi network. This will route your data through a home broadband connection allowing you to save your download allowance for when you’re out and about.  You can also connect to free Wi-Fi hotspots when out and about.
  • Refrain from using bandwidth-intensive apps. If you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network, refrain from streaming music or video content from the internet.
  • Disable automatic application updates. Application updates can use up a large proportion of your monthly download allowance. If you receive 10 app updates per month, this is equivalent to about 60MB data usage. To further restrict data consumption, you can also tick the box for “Update over Wi-Fi only”.
  • Disable bandwidth-hungry apps. On Android, it’s possible to see how much data each app is consuming. To do this, navigate to Settings > Data Usage. Consider uninstalling bandwidth-heavy applications or restricting their ability to use background data.