How much data do I need on a mobile contract?

How much data do I need icon

Picking the right allowance on a new mobile deal can feel daunting - after all, you’re probably going to be stuck with it for a couple of years.

But don't worry - broadbandchoices is here to help. Here's how to choose a data plan that suits you.

How much data do I need?

The average mobile owner uses about 3GB of data per month these days - but our phone usage can vary pretty widely.

Remember that you only need to use the data in your mobile plan when you're away from Wi-Fi and connected to 4G/3G. It all comes down to how you use your phone - and how much you use it - when you're out of the house.

How do you use your phone?


Our suggested data allowance

I'm always connected to Wi-Fi and only occasionally use 4G

Light use

Less than 1GB - look for plans with 250MB or 500MB

I use my phone to browse the web, send email, and use apps like Facebook

Light use

1GB is perfect

I use apps and social media a lot

Light-medium use

2GB-3GB, depending which apps you use

I use lots of apps, browse the web, and watch some videos

Medium use

5GB should be plenty

I stream an hour or two of music or podcasts over 4G every day

Medium-heavy use

5GB-10GB - streaming eats a lot of data

I rely on my phone and send documents back and forth

Medium-heavy use

5GB-10GB will cover you

I watch videos or TV (Netflix, YouTube, Sky Go) over 4G a few times a week

Heavy use

10GB at least

I stream TV shows on my commute every day

Heavy use

20GB to unlimited

Other things to consider

  • How long will your contract last? Data use increases over time, so if your contract's a long one - 12 or 24 months - you may want to plan for the future. If you use 1GB a month now, for instance, that may increase to 2GB or even 3GB by the end of your contract.
  • Getting a new phone? If it's a swanky one with more features, a faster and cleverer interface, and a better quality screen than your old one, you'll almost definitely use more data now. Streaming video to a high-res display eats up more data, for example. (You can get deals on top phones with no upfront costs, by the way.)
  • Can you cut down on your data usage? Using less will save you money. Find Wi-Fi hotspots to connect to; download your shows and playlists on Wi-Fi instead of streaming them; and limit your apps' background data when you're on 4G.
  • What you use your data for. Some providers offer free social media data, allowing you to use the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram without cutting into your allowance.
Using mobile phone

Find out how much data you use

There's no better way to work out how much data you need than by looking at what you currently use. Here are a few ways you can do that.

1. Use the app from your network

Most mobile networks have a special app you can download to tell you how much of your allowance you've used, including My EE, My3, and My Vodafone. It's the most accurate way of seeing your data use - and since you get other features too, like quick access to your bills and plan benefits, these apps are well worth downloading.

2. Look at your phone's settings

On certain operating systems, you can see your data usage natively on your phone. Bear in mind this isn't available on some older versions of each OS.

  • On an iPhone - Go to Settings - Cellular - Cellular data usage. This shows you how much data you've used since you last switched your phone on. Tap 'reset statistics' to set it back to zero, and check back in a month.
  • On an Android - Go to Settings - Data (or Data usage, or similar). This'll show you a graph of your data usage, as well as which apps are using the most juice.

3. Download a data tracking app

Tons of these are available from the App Store and Google Play Store. Download one, set it up, and check it in a month or so.

How much data do apps use?

You've probably noticed that some apps are more data-hungry than others - some only use a tiny bit, while other gobble up the gigabytes.

Email apps, e.g. Gmail - use next to no data

WhatsApp and other messengers - use next to no data to just send and receive messages, but they use more if you're sending pictures and videos

Facebook Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media - about 20MB-30MB per hour when you're actively using them

Spotify - 150MB per hour

Netflix, Amazon Video, iPlayer - 1-2GB per hour

How much is 1GB of data?

Approximately, 1GB of mobile data will let you…

  • Browse the web for 40 hours
  • Watch TV for two hours in standard definition, or for one hour in HD
  • Post 500 photos to social media
  • Send about 10,000 emails, or post about 10,000 tweets (not including attachments, pictures, and so on)
  • Send 1 million instant messages
  • Hold a four-hour Skype or FaceTime call

See our guide to data usage for more.

Can I get unlimited data?

Yes you can - however, your options here are, ironically enough, quite limited.

The only provider to offer plans with fully unlimited data to all is Three, so that's your best bet here. Virgin Media broadband customers can also get their hands on an unlimited data SIM from Virgin Mobile.

Giffgaff offers an 'Always on' unlimited data plan too, but throttles your speeds once you've used 9GB in a month, so it won't suit everyone.

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