How Much Cell Phone Data Do I Need?

Easton Smith
Mobile, TV, & Moving Expert
Read More
Published on November 14, 2021
4 min read

These days, early everything you do on your phone uses data. Sending a photo of your cute cat to your crush? Data. Navigating with Google Maps? Data. Watching endless TikTok videos? So much data. Data puts the smart in smartphone.

So you know you need data. But the question is, how much?

That really depends. The average North American used 11.1 GB per month in 2020.1 But many people use a lot more than that. In this article, we’ll help you figure out how much you need and how you can get a good deal on a data plan that meets your needs.

How much data do I use?

Let’s talk numbers. How much data do you actually use? If you have an existing data plan and a smartphone, it’s actually pretty easy to figure out how much you’ve been using. Here’s how.

How to check your data usage

If you’re an iPhone user, just follow these simple steps to check your data usage:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Click on Cellular
  3. Look at Current Period to see how much data you’ve used since you last reset your data statistics (this is not how much data you’ve used since your last bill)
  4. Look at the list of apps below to see how much data each individual app has used in the period

If you’re an Android user you can check your data usage like this:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Go to Network & internet
  3. Under the Mobile tab you’ll see your total data use
  4. Click on Mobile data usage to see more detailed information and graphs about your data usage

Checking your past data usage should help you determine how much you use each month. But it’s not an exact science, and we would recommend overestimating your usage because people are using more data than ever. And the trend is just going up.

Even if you don’t have an existing smartphone and data plan, you can estimate what your data usage might look like by adding up how much time you think you’ll spend on the online activities.

How much data do different activities use?

Your exact data usage will depend on how exactly you use your apps. (If you’re watching a video on Facebook it will use more data than just scrolling.) But this list can give you a general idea of how much data many common activities use per hour.

How much data do everyday cell phone activities use?*
Activity or app
Hourly data usage
Pokémon Go~3 MB
Google Maps~5 MB
Spotify (normal quality)~40 MB
PUBG Mobile~40 MB
Safari (web browsing) ~60 MB
Podcasts~60 MB
Facebook~80 MB
Fortnite Mobile~100 MB
Watching Youtube (standard definition) ~300 MB
Instagram~720 MB
TikTok~840 MB

Based on AT&T data calculator estimates. Amounts may vary.

You can imagine how quickly data usage can add up, especially when you consider that kids between the ages of 4 and 15 are spending an average of 85 minutes a day on Youtube and 80 minutes per day on TikTok!2 These are among the apps that use the most data.

But you may want to get an unlimited data plan, even if you’re not a social media–addicted teenager. Even if you don’t think you use a lot now, data usage in North America is expected to spike from an average of 11.1 GB of data a month to 48 GB by 2026!1

What’s the difference between 4G LTE and 5G data?

You may have heard of the new mobile data technology called 5G. Most mobile networks are now incorporating 5G into their service, which will mean greatly increased data speeds for those with eligible devices.

Your overall data consumption shouldn’t change with 5G, even if your data speeds are faster. But many cell phone plans do have higher data caps on 5G data usage, which means you could do a lot more with a 5G connection for the same price.

Best data plans for different kinds of users

We spend all day researching and writing about cell phone plans. While it’s up to you to decide what kind of plan you need, we’ve put together a list of our favorite mobile plans.  Here are our recommendations for different kinds of data users.

  • Best plan for data hogs: If you just want the most high-speed data, period, then there’s one plan that really stands out. T-Mobile’s Magenta MAX plan has no data cap, boasts the fastest data speeds in the industry, and connects you to a big 5G network. But it will cost you a pretty penny.
  • Best plan for entertainment: If you want data for gaming and streaming video, then Verizon’s Play More unlimited data plan is an awesome option because it offers unlimited data and HD streaming.
  • Best cheap unlimited data plan: If you don’t mind having your data slowed down occasionally, then Visible Wireless’s unlimited data plan is an incredible deal at just $40 a month (even cheaper if you add extra lines).
  • Best plan for 4–15 GB of data: Mint Mobile is a smaller cell phone company (yes, it’s the one owned by Ryan Reynolds) that offers unbeatable deals on limited-data plans.
  • Best low-data plan: If you just need a few MB or GB of data for Google Maps and Pokémon Go, then we recommend checking out these prepaid plans.
  • Best no-data plan: No data? How retro of you. We’re impressed. And yes, there are still plenty of cheap talk and text plans just for you.

No matter what carrier you go with, remember that you can save bookoo money by bundling in a family plan.

How to use your data more efficiently

Have you ever looked at your bank statement and noticed that there are all kinds of random little charges on there that are bleeding your account dry? Yeah, well there’s probably something similar happening with your phone data.

Background refresh, GPS navigation, not using Wi-Fi when you can—these are just some of the activities that may be using up your data without you even noticing it. Check out our article about how to reduce your data usage for some useful tips.

Recap: How much cell phone data do I need?

To recap: you need exactly 11.7 GB of data every month ...  just kidding! We don’t know exactly how much data you need, but you can figure it out by checking your phone settings or by adding up the data usage of common activities we listed above.

Honestly, given how many apps use data, most people will want an unlimited data plan. But even these plans have soft data caps, and if you go over that cap, your speeds will be reduced. So be sure to read the fine print and find a plan that gives you what you need.

If you're relying on your Wi-Fi to reduce your data usage, you might want to consider our advice on How Much Internet Speed Do I Need? 

Sources:

Easton Smith
Written by
Easton Smith
Easton has worked as a freelance writer and researcher for several years, reviewing health, lifestyle, and technology products. He has probably read more Terms of Use contracts than any human alive. When he’s not sitting in front of a computer, Easton spends his time camping, climbing, and volunteering with humanitarian aid organizations.

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