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How much phone data do you really need?

Browsing Facebook, downloading music, using apps and surfing the web are just some of the things that we can do on our phones. But all of these use internet data, which comes at a cost.

Ever wondered exactly how much is 500MB of internet? What about 1GB? Do you need more, or less data?

Knowing how much phone data you need is crucial so you don't end up overpaying or running out of data.

Here's all you need to know about your phone data allowance.

A group of people sitting down using their mobile phones


What is mobile data?

Your phone data allows you to access the internet - which includes your Instagram, TikTok and Spotify - without having to be connected to a Wi-Fi.

Your mobile network provider should automatically switch you to Wi-Fi if a nearby network is available. But if there's no network available, this is where phone data plays a role. This means as long as you have signal, you can be connected anywhere you go.

There are also different speeds of mobile data. 3G is the slowest and 4G is faster and good for watching videos. But most recently, 5G has made an arrival to most mobile phone providers, which can be as fast as fibre-optic broadband.


Why do you need mobile data?

You need mobile data if you want to access your emails, social media or any other entertainment while you're away from any Wi-Fi connection.

For example, when you're on the move, like on the train or in a car, you might need to connect to your phone data includes. Or if you're enjoying the outdoors, or even at the beach!


How much phone data does each activity take up?

Some data packages can be as low as 100MB or 250MB of data, with most starting from 500MB and going up to 1GB, 2GB and more.

According to Ofcom's Communications Market Report, the average monthly use of data is around 4.5GB in 2020.

To find out exactly how much data you want to use, here's a rough example of how much data everyday activities on your phone use up:

Online activity Data used
Sending an email with an attachment
300-500 KB per message
Uploading pictures
1.5 MB per photo
1-2 MB per minute
Browsing the internet
2.5 MB per minute
Streaming music on Spotify
70-150 MB per hour
1-3GB per hour
Downloading a HD movie
4-5 GB
Watching YouTube
2.5-6 MB per minute
Playing games on apps
1.5 MB per minute
Streaming a podcast
60-100 MB per hour

How much data am I using right now?

You can check exactly how much data you're using by logging into your mobile network's app or browser.

Once logged in, you should be able to find a data 'usage' section. If you're unsure, you can always contact their customer services to find out how much data you're using.

If there's a lot of unused data left at the end of the month, that's probably telling you that you're spending too much on data than what you actually need.

You'd know if you're underspending on data as you'd be charged extra on top of your monthly plan payments.


How much data do I need on my phone?

Light user - 'I use it every now and then'

In a month, you occasionally browse the internet and send the odd email. You might check your Facebook every so often. But you never upload, download or stream any media. You’re likely to use your internet for less than an hour a day.

Recommended data allowance: 500MB/month

Medium user – 'I browse when I'm bored'

You browse the internet every day and check your Facebook, Twitter and emails regularly. You use a few apps each month and like to watch videos or download some songs every now and then.

Recommended data allowance: 1GB/month

Heavy user – 'I use it for entertainment and work'

You regularly browse the internet, check Facebook, Twitter and emails. You use a number of your favourite apps, watch videos and download music for your phone several times a week. Extensive streaming and downloading of media over the month is likely to exceed 1GB. So you might want to either limit yourself to when you have Wi-Fi access or upgrade your allowance.

Recommended data allowance: 2GB/month or more

Super user - 'I use it all the time'

You rarely connect to Wi-Fi and you can't live without your millions of apps. You love to download and stream music and movies and heavily use your data on the go. You also regularly use your mobile data as a hotspot so you can access work emails or for entertainment purposes.

Recommended data allowance: 20GB/month or unlimited data

If you want to find out more about how much 500MB or 2GB of phone data should get you, check out our mobile data calculator.


How can I save mobile data?

There are several things you could do to make sure you don’t go over your data allowance:

  • Use Wi-Fi whenever you can.
  • Download services over Wi-Fi so apps can be used offline.
  • Turn off permission for apps to use data when you're not using them (otherwise this can drain your data in the background).
  • Be aware of file sizes when downloading and uploading.
  • Get the best mobile data deal. You can either get a data rollover plan where networks let you use any left over data at the end of the month into the next month. Or a flexible contract where you can choose a tariff that lets you change the data every month.
  • Be careful of data roaming charges when going abroad.

How much are data roaming charges abroad?

'Roaming' means when you're using your phone while on an overseas network. Before Brexit, you could use your data overseas in 28 destination in the EU at no extra charge. But since 1 January 2021, UK mobile phone users could no longer get free roaming in the EU.

If you're travelling further outside the EU, you may have to pay extra to use your data. The government has also added a 20% VAT to any roaming charges outside the EU.

If you're not careful, you could end up spending a lot on your phone bills.

Here's a list of the big networks and the locations they do roaming offers in:

If you're still unsure, to be on the safe side, before going abroad give your mobile phone network provider a call. You can ask them to check exactly what your phone's roaming policy is like for the country you're planning to visit.

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