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How Much Data Do I Need?

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When choosing between cell phone plans, the trick is knowing how much data you really need each month. To figure that out, you have to understand how your phone habits impact your mobile data usage. Are you a heavy gamer? Do you stream your favorite shows on your smartphone? Can you connect to a Wi-Fi network to save your cellular data?

Read on to get all the info you need to match your cell phone data plan to your mobile habits. We’ll break down what data is, how you use your mobile data, and the best types of cellular data plans for your day-to-day mobile phone needs.

If you want our help to compare phone plans to fit your data usage, try our Plan Finder below. It’s free, unbiased, and lets you compare the best phone plans from top carriers in no time.

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How Does Cell Data Work?

Before we dive into how much data you need, let's touch on how cellular data works. In a nutshell, cellular data is information streamed back and forth between satellites, enabling you to:

  • Surf the Internet, like viewing webpages, including everything from online shopping to reading the news
  • Post pictures, comments, and other information using social media platforms
  • Binge shows and movies from Netflix and other streaming apps 
  • Watch videos on YouTube, TikTok, and other favorites
  • Communicating with friends and family via messaging apps
  • Track your location and use GPS turn-by-turn navigation

Note that cellular data isn’t used to make phone calls or send text messages.

What is a Gigabyte?

We can't talk about how much data you need without using the word “GB” or “gigabyte.” Simply put, a GB is a measurement of data storage. Gigabytes are how we measure the amount of cellular data and hotspot data on a given cell phone plan. FYI, gigabytes also determine the amount of storage available on your smartphone. When it comes to your phone, more gigabytes equals more room to store things like photos and videos. On that note, if you're in the market for a new phone, check out our article titled How Many GB Do I Need On My Phone?

How Much Mobile Data Do You Currently Use?

How much GB of data you need on your cell phone plan all depends on what you use your phone for, like video streaming, streaming music, online gaming, messaging, and web browsing, and how long you will need to store your data.

First, it’s important to find out how much data you use month over month. While your cell phone provider can tell you how much mobile data you consume, you can also search on your phone to get real-time info. Just head over to your settings app, find the cellular section, and look at the overall data usage by the app. This will give you a clear picture of how you’re using your current data allowance. 

How to Check Your Data Usage on an Android Phone

To check your data usage on your Android phone, do the following:

  • Open your phone and go to the settings application. 
  • Click on ‘Network and Internet.’
  • Select the ‘Mobile’ button to see all of your data usage for the period.
  • Select ‘Mobile data usage’ to go deeper and see a complete overview of your data usage trends and habits.

How to Check Your Data Usage on an iPhone

To check your data usage on your iPhone, do the following:

  • Open your phone and go to the settings application. 
  • Click on ‘Cellular.’
  • Select the ‘Current Period’ button to see all of your data usage for the period.
  • Scroll down to see the Internet usage of every app on your phone.

How Much Data Do You Need By Phone Habit?

Not all activities on your cell phone use the same amount of cellular data. While streaming services, like Apple TV+ and Netflix, use a lot of data, texting and talking don’t impact your data plan at all. Are you into online gaming? 

Here are some helpful examples of how different phone habits impact your data usage: 

  • Video streaming: 1GB of data equals about four hours of streaming services, depending on video quality. 
  • Social media scrolling: 1GB of data equals about 12 hours of scrolling social media apps such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.
  • Music streaming: 1 GB of data equals about 17 hours of music
  • Turn-by-turn GPS Navigation: 1 GB of data equals about 450 hours of Google Maps
  • Web surfing: 1 GB of data equals about 12 hours of browsing
  • Online gaming: 1GB of data equals anywhere from as little as 2 hours or as much as 20 hours of gaming depending on how high-definition the graphics are, whether it’s a single-person or a multi-person game, and more.

How to Save GB of Mobile Data

It’s important to get a good look at the amount of data you really use each month. But after you know where you stand on data usage, you can look for ways to save precious GB of data. Here’s a quick list of tips for saving your cellular data:

  • Turn off data roaming, which can cause you to burn through data much faster than you think. Make sure you don’t have roaming on by default, especially when traveling.
  • Limit your use of the Internet on your phone to when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network.
  • For apps that require an Internet Connection, turn off the cellular data option from your settings menu on your phone so you can’t use them by mistake when not on Wi-Fi. 
  • Change your app settings to prevent them from running in the background, selecting the option to run only when in use.
  • Close your apps when you’re not using them.
  • If you do have to access the Internet when you’re not on Wi-Fi, try not to use video or music streaming. These media types use much more data compared to doing a quick web search or sending an email.
  • Minimize your use of map apps like Google Maps when possible.
  • Unless on Wi-Fi, try not to use video streaming services or FaceTime to communicate with friends.

How Much Hotspot Data Do You Need?

How much hotspot data you need depends on whether and how frequently you use a hotspot. Before we go on and on about how to determine how much hotspot data you need, let’s answer the most basic question: What is a hotspot?

A "hotspot" is a local network broadcast by your smartphone or tablet, providing a Wi-Fi connection so that other devices, like laptops and other mobile phones, can use your phone’s data connection. While the exact hotspot use data rate varies from device to device, as well as location, hotspot data usage is related to whatever a connected device does.

For instance, if someone connects to your phone’s hotspot and uses it to stream Netflix in high definition, they’ll use more data than if they connected to the web on their own. This is a big reason why places like coffee shops and libraries provide public networks to connect to.

Here’s a rough estimate of how many gigabytes of hotspot data to look for in your cell phone plan based on your hotspot usage:

  • If you only use your hotspot 1x per week or less, 5GB or less of hotspot data should be enough
  • If you use your hotspot 1x to 3x per week, look for between 5 and 15GB of hotspot data
  • If you use your hotspot more than 3x per week, you’ll want more than 15GB of hotspot data

Want to use your phone as a hotspot as often as you like? Take a look at our roundup of phone plans with the most hotspot data.

How To Pick a Phone Plan Based on Your Data Usage

When it comes to choosing between cell phone plans, you’ll have to decide whether you want an unlimited data plan or a capped data plan. Note that as of the writing of this article, all the top carriers offer unlimited plans, however, capped plans are not always available. In either case, you’ll need to decide how much data and what type of data you want.

Here’s a rundown of the different kinds of mobile users and some data plan suggestions we think could fit your needs. Which one are you?

  • The All-Talk and Texter: In an average month, you mostly use your phone for talk, text, a few emails, and occasional web browsing. But, for the most part, you’re not streaming or uploading data-heavy content.
    We Recommend: An Entry-Level Plan

  • The Occasional Web User: You’re the kind of mobile phone user who likes to hop on the web for the latest news and check out a few YouTube videos, but really only when someone sends them to you.We Recommend: A Mid-Level Plan
  • The Frequent Streamer and Scroller: Watching Netflix and Hulu, and listening to two-hour-long podcast episodes is your thing. Plus, you like to hop on Facebook and TikTok to not only watch videos but even upload some of your own.We Recommend: A Mid-Level or Premium Plan
  • The Super Streamer and Gamer: You own all the apps, stream countless hours of videos on Netflix daily, love gaming, and scroll through social media regularly. You need as much data as you can get your hands on.We Recommend: A Premium Plan

The Bottom Line

All the top wireless service providers offer a range of data plans to choose from. With so many cell phone plans available, it can be difficult to make an informed choice. That's where Navi can help with our free, unbiased Plan Finder to let you quickly compare plans from top carriers based on your preferences, including your data usage needs.

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