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Smartphone data: How much do you need?

A sphere of app iconsThese days many of us own smartphones, so we’re always connected to the web. These features can add to your bills. Make sure you’re paying the right price for your data package.

A quarter of adults and half of teenagers now own a smartphone, according to telecoms regulator Ofcom.

And 59 per cent of these smartphones have been bought in the last year.

Updating social media, downloading music, using apps, surfing the web, checking emails – it’s increasingly common to do all this and more on your smartphone, but this web connection comes at a cost.

So it pays to know how much internet data you need so you don’t pay over the odds for a data package that you don’t use.

Data-heavy activity

Usually, mobile phone network providers offer anything from 200 megabytes (MB) to 1 gigabyte (GB) per month included in your monthly contract deal.

These “data packages” can also be offered as an add-on for a further cost on both contract and pay-as-you-go deals.

Watch out for so called “unlimited” data packages as these often have deceivingly low fair-usage policies.

  • Viewing web pages uses comparatively little data. Even if you viewed 20 pages a day, every day for the entire month, you’d still probably only have used about 110MB of your allowance.
  • E-mails will make even less of an impact on your monthly allowance but be wary of large attachments like photos, videos and music files which could eat up your allowance if downloaded. If you plan on downloading anything of a significant size, it’s always advisable to do this over wi-fi at home or a free hot-spot. This is because any online activity over wi-fi does not contribute to your monthly allowance of data.
  • For avid Twitter and Facebook users the good news is that basic use of these services doesn’t use much data, especially when using an application. But watch out, regularly uploading pictures and videos or playing online games can really take chunks out of your allowance.
  • Downloading and streaming music or videos is very data intensive. Even on the most generous data packages, excessive activity of this sort could land you with a nasty shock when you get your next monthly bill. So save this activity for when you’re at home or have access to Wi-Fi.

What type of user are you?

  • Light user – In a month, you look at web pages occasionally and send the odd email. You might check your Facebook now and again but you never upload, download or stream any media (pictures, music and videos).

    Recommended data allowance: 250MB/month
  • Medium user – You look at a few web pages every day and check Facebook, Twitter and emails regularly. You use a few applications that consume a little data each month but you rarely upload, download or stream any media whatsoever.

    Recommended data allowance: 500MB/month
  • Heavy user – You look at web pages every day and check Facebook, Twitter and emails regularly. You have several applications that you use regularly, most of which consume some data. You download e-mail attachments regularly, and stream or download media fairly often.

    Recommended data allowance: 1GB/month

Extensive streaming and downloading of media over the month will most likely exceed 1GB, so you might want to consider either limiting these activities to times when you have Wi-Fi access, upgrading your allowance with your current provider, or searching for a more generous deal elsewhere.

What to watch out for

When using the web at home, make sure you’re connected to the Wi-Fi network, and that your network data connection is turned off.

If you take your phone abroad, turn the "data roaming" option off and don’t use your phone for anything web based, unless it’s over Wi-Fi, otherwise you may find yourself shouldered with a hefty bill when you get back.

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Paul Drury

Paul Drury

Paul was a contributor and techy person at Confused.com between 2011 and 2013.

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