One of the most important decisions you need to make when choosing a new mobile plan is your monthly allowance - particularly your data allowance. And with a huge range of deals to choose from, it can be a bit tricky to zero in on the right one. To help you along, here's our quick guide to mobile data. Read on and we'll steer you towards the right plan.
So what data allowance should I get?
The data allowance you need all depends on how much you use your phone, and what you use it for.
If you use apps that swallow up a lot of data - like streaming video from Netflix - you'll need an allowance on the large side. On the other hand, some of us are better off with a lighter (and cheaper) plan.
To give you an idea of how much data you'll probably need in a month, take a gander at our estimations below. Think about what you do on your smartphone, and see what fits you best - and remember that you only need to use mobile data when you're out and about, not when you're connected to Wi-Fi at home.
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- I only use my phone internet a tiny bit - 500MB
- I use my phone for email, messaging, and a bit of social media - 1-2GB
- I use lots of social media, and watch a few videos - 2-5GB
- I use my phone for work, including email and downloading documents and files - 5GB
- I stream lots of music or podcasts every day, and use social media, messaging, and other apps too - 5-10GB
- I stream video over 4G a few times a week - 10GB
- I stream lots of video every single day - 20GB-unlimited
A few networks actually let you use some apps data-free - any data they use up won't come out of your monthly allowance. For instance, Virgin Mobile gives you data-free messaging on WhatsApp, Messenger, and Twitter; and Three lets you 'Go Binge' with various streaming apps data-free. It's worth factoring those in when you choose a network.
How to find out your data usage
Of course, the best way to work out what data allowance you need is to look at how much you currently use on your phone, and base it on that. There are a few ways you can do this…
An app from your network
This is the most accurate way of seeing how much data you really use. Most networks offer an app that you can download - such as My3, My EE, and My Vodafone - which tells you how much of your allowance you've used, and how much you have left for the month. Download the right one, log in, and check it regularly, and you'll have a very good idea of your usage.
These apps have the added benefit of other features too - like access to your bills, perks, and account info.
Your phone's settings
You can delve into your smartphone's native settings to find out, too.
- On iPhone: Go to Settings - Cellular - Cellular data usage. This will show how much mobile data you've used since you last switched your phone on. Reset the statistics, then check back in a month to see your usage.
- On Android: Go to Settings, then Data, data usage, or something similar. You'll see a graph of your mobile data use.
The App Store and Google Play Store are full of apps to help out here. Install a reputable one, set it up to start tracking, and take a look after a month has passed.
How much data do my apps use?
It can vary a lot, but here's a rough idea of how much data some of the most common apps use.
Email - Next to nothing - about 5MB per day. However, it can be much higher than that if you send or download attachments.
Chrome, Safari, news and magazine apps - Very little - about 50MB per hour.
WhatsApp, Messenger, other messaging apps - Next to nothing, but can climb to a couple of GB per month if you send or receive pictures and videos.
Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, other social media - 50-100MB per hour.
Spotify, Apple Music, other music streaming apps - 150MB per hour.
FaceTime, Skype, other video calls - 150-200MB per hour.
YouTube, Netflix, iPlayer, Amazon Video, Sky Go, other video streaming apps - 1GB per hour for standard definition, or 2GB per hour for HD.
How mobile data allowances work
Data allowances on mobile plans are measured in megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB). A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes - so if you see an allowance measured in MB, it's quite small, while the bigger plans are measured in GB.
And boy do mobile data allowances vary. You can get deals with as little data as 200MB, or as much as 60GB - that's 60,000MB! Large plans are more expensive than smaller ones, obviously, but you should always compare deals to see which network is cheapest for the allowance range you want.
Can I get unlimited data?
Yes, unlimited data deals are available, both on handset contracts and SIM-only - but only from a couple of networks. Three offers unlimited data on a good range of phones; and giffgaff has an 'Always On' plan, which technically has no download limit, but throttles your speeds once you've used 20GB in a month.