How much data do you need? Data allowance explained (2023)

What do you want to read about?

  • How can I check how much data I'm using right now? We've got a very easy way. And it'll only take you a matter of minutes.
  • How do I work out how much data I'll really need? Calculator at the ready? It's time to be honest about your usage habits.
  • Am I a heavy data user? Or a light one? Match your mobile internet patterns to our customer profiles.
  • Can you give me some data-saving tips From flexible contracts to free data rollover, we talk you through how to get the most out of your monthly allowance.
  • How much are data roaming charges? If you’re planning a trip abroad, we can help you avoid spending a fortune on data.
  • How much does it cost if you go over your data limit? Forewarned is forearmed. Make sure you know what extra data costs.
  • What is a fair use policy? It's a fundamental principle of mobile internet usage. But what is it exactly?

Mobile data usage: the basics

Data allowance can be tricky to work our for many consumers. While the cost of data continues to drop, the growth in apps and services that utilise more and more data means that it can be hard to establish out just how much you need.

And that’s before you’ve analysed which networks have the best deals when it comes to using data–guzzling tools, like Netflix, Spotify and Facebook.

Whether you’re looking to curb how much data you use or you're keen for a package that will allow you unrestricted access to the fastest data networks, our guide has got you covered. Keep reading and we’ll explain everything you need to know, from how data is measured to how you can avoid paying over the odds.

Want to know how much data you need? Check out our data calculator tool

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Mobile data usage: The basics

When you're downloading a movie or streaming a playlist over 3G, 4G or 5G, you’re using up precious data. But you may not be certain as to how much data you’re actually using each time you open an email, use FaceTime or scroll through Twitter. And that means you might be paying for data you don’t need, just to be on the safe side.

Research released by Citizens Advice in January 2019 found that a massive 71% of people on SIM only deals were overpaying for data they didn't use. It said that on average, consumers were not using 2GB of their data allowance each month, totalling £800 million a year. What’s more, it reckons consumers could save £63 per a year by switching contracts.

Worryingly, it also discovered that those who took out contracts with networks in–store were left with 4.2GB of unused data each month, with those who did so online winding up with 2.6GB of wasted data.

“Mobile companies should be doing more to help their customers save on data they don’t use, especially when it’s clear people are consistently underusing their allowance,” said Gillian Guy, CEO of Citizens Advice.

What do MB and GB stand for? How is data measured?

Before we dive into working out how much data you need, we should probably get you up to speed with the terminology for measuring units of data, which in turn is used by networks to tell you how much data you get with a mobile phone contract.


This stands for megabyte and is made up of approximately 1000 kilobytes.


This stands for a Gigabyte. About 1000 megabytes makes up one GB.

The amount of data you get with your contract differs hugely. Some offer as little as 1GB per month and start from under £4 per month.

At the other end of the scale, there are costlier data plans that offer comparatively vast allowances of 200GB or even unlimited data.

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How can I check how much data I'm using right now?

How much data do you need? Data allowance explained (2)(

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Checking exactly how much data you're using each month is easy. All you need to do is log in to your account on your computer by visiting your network's website.

Or if you're with one of the larger networks, you can log in to your specific network's customer account app on your phone.

Once you're logged in, you'll be able to see how much data you've used so far this month, and in previous months.

If you're often left with lots of unused data, you’re probably paying for a data allowance that's too hefty for your needs.

Accessing your account on your computer is just a case of visiting your network's website and logging in. Then simply navigate to the section of the app that covers your data allowance.

However, using an app to check your data usage isn't quite so simple. That's because networks don't usually pre-install their customer account apps on phones at the point of purchase, so you may need to download the app first.

Handily, here are links from major network where you can get their customer-account apps:

What's a heavy data user? Or a light one?

How much data do you need? Data allowance explained (3)

A less precise but quicker way to get an idea of what sort of data allowance you need is to check which of these user profiles you match.

Low data user - 'I use my phone every so often, to keep up with friends and interesting news'

You like to look at web pages, or check your email.

You check your Facebook or Twitter online reasonably often.

You don't play a lot of games on your phone or download music directly on the phone.

You may occasionally use your mobile for chatting online or watch the odd video clip.

You're unlikely to use your internet for more than an hour a day.

Sound like you? If so, you're low data user and you’ll find that a low data allowance of 2-5GB will cover you.

Medium data user- 'I need data for my email, social media and entertainment’

You download email daily to your phone, via an on-board or downloadable email client such as Gmail.

You spend quite a bit of time browsing the internet, and download a few games or applications a month.

You like to watch video on online streaming sites such as YouTube every so often and perhaps download a few songs now and then too.

Sound familiar? That means you're classified as a medium data user. You'll require a data allowance of 10GB per month at least.

Heavy data user -'I rely on my phone for both entertainment and work'

You send and receive quite a few emails daily, often with attachments.

(Video) How To Check Data Usage on iPhone and Android

You watch videos online several times a week and are likely to download a lot of applications and games as well as music for your phone.

You also make extensive use of streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify.

You rely on your mobile internet for work as well as communication with friends and family and need to use your phone for internet access several hours daily.

Does that match your usage habits? Yes? That means you're classified as a heavy user. To ensure you never run out of data, you’ll probably need a monthly data allowance of around 20GB. Or you could opt for an unlimited data deal for total peace of mind.

See our latest mobile phone deals

How much data do I need?

How much data do you need? Data allowance explained (4)

With more and more apps requiring access to data services, it can be hard to work out what apps use how much data.

You can check exact usage on your phone. If you have an iPhone, fire up Settings, tap Mobile Data and scroll down to see which apps are using the most data. The one that’s eating up the most will appear at the top of the list.

Android users simply need to tap into the Data Usage menu in Settings to see a detailed graph of how their data usage has changed over the previous months, as well as a list of apps that are hoovering up the most data.

While these tools are great for giving you an overall picture of how much data you’re using, it’s good to know how specific services and usage breaks down too. The following is a good guide:

  • Streaming one hour of video on Netflix, iPlayer or Amazon Prime – 644MB
  • Streaming a two-hour movie in high definition – 4.2GB
  • Gaming online for an hour – 43MB
  • Streaming an hour of music via Spotify or Apple Music – 80MB
  • Browsing through 60 web pages – 140MB
  • Download one song – 4–8MB
  • Download a film trailer – 60–100MB
  • One hour of driving while using Google Maps – 5MB

With this information and an honest assessment of how you use your phone (for instance, how often do you stream music?), you should be able to make a pretty good guess at how much data you'll get through.

So, if you love watching movies via Netflix over 4G or 5G, you’re going to need bigger data allowance. If you only access the web or open email on your phone, then a smaller allowance should suit your needs.

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How can I save data?

Running low on data is a familiar problem for many of us. And when the alternative is forking out for a costly add-on on top of your monthly phone bill, lots of users opt to struggle by with the allowance they’ve got rather than buy more.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Below we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you get more out of your monthly data allowance without costing you more money.

Download services over Wi-Fi so you can use apps offline

Wi–Fi is your friend when it comes to saving data. Regular home broadband or public Wi–Fi hotspots mean you can download whatever you need before you head out and shift to 3G or 4G networks.

Netflix, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer all allow you to download programmes over Wi–Fi, meaning that as long as you have enough storage space on your smartphone, you can stash whatever shows you want to watch without having to use data. This is particularly handy for train journeys, where 4G network access can patchy.

Likewise, Spotify and Apple Music allow you to download offline music, so you can listen to playlists, albums and podcasts without having to stream them. This will save data and also keep your battery kicking for longer, as it doesn’t have to work as hard by pulling information across the network.

Remember, too, that Google Maps allows you to download entire towns, cities and regions, meaning you can use your phone in Airplane mode and still get from A to B. This is particularly handy when travelling abroad and you’re concerned about using data.

Find out how to use Google Maps offline.

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What are data–free services? And how do networks’ offers vary?

The growth of data rollover has come at the same time as more networks offering data–free services. This means that users can access certain services without them eating into their data allowance, meaning they can either cut back on their package or use it for other services.

Three’s Go Binge lets you stream Netflix, TVPlayer, SoundCloud and Deezer without eating into your monthly data allowance. So you can watch your favourite shows and listen to music without using any data or having to download anything.

Virgin Media customers on select plans can use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter without eating into their monthly data allowance.

Voxi lets you use social media sites like Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter and Viber without eating into your data allowance.

Data rollover plans

How much data do you need? Data allowance explained (5)

Networks are increasingly wising up to users having data left at the end of their monthly billing cycle and allowing them to roll it over into the following four-week period.

Sky Mobile is the best example of this, as it allows you to rollover any unused data at the end of each month and store it in an online ‘piggybank’. That data will be there whenever you want to use it for up to three years at no extra cost.

iD Mobile lets you roll on one month’s worth of unused data, which stops you building up a huge trove of unused data. But because any rolled over data from the previous month is used first, any data that’s left at the end of month can then be rolled over again.

Virgin Media also lets customers rollover one month’s worth of data at a time. But, just like iD Mobile, you use any rolled over data before your regular monthly allowance.

Vodafone customers on a pay as you go Big Value plan can rollover any unused data at the end of the month. But you can only rollover one month’s leftovers at a time, so you can’t stockpile endless data.

O2 customers can rollover any unused data to use the following month. But this only applies to additional data purchased on one of O2’s bolt-ons.

For more information, take a look at our guide to data rollover.

Flexible contracts

If your data usage varies a lot month to month, a flexible contract might be the perfect solution. Rather than tying yourself into a set monthly allowance for the next two years, you can now choose a tariff that lets you change it up every month.

So if you know you’re going to be using your phone a lot over the next month, you can choose to up your data allowance. Or if you’re paying for more data than you’re using, you can downgrade your monthly contract to a cheaper one with a smaller allowance.

O2, for example, offers a range of flexible contracts to help you manage your monthly allowances.

Sky Mobile also lets you increase or decrease your data allowance whenever you want, so you’ll always have the amount that suits your needs.

For more data-saving tips, check out our guide on how to limit your data usage.

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How can I use my phone abroad without running up a huge bill?

How much data do you need? Data allowance explained (6)

With horror stories of holiday-makers receiving huge bills for using their phones abroad, it’s easy to see why people are wary of switching on their devices when they’re out of the country.

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But there are lots of ways you can use your mobile wherever you are in the world without it costing you a fortune.

Following Brexit, many networks have reintroduced roaming charges within the EU. This means that you may now need to pay an additional fee when travelling in Europe.

Still, customers on O2, iD Mobile, Sky Mobile or Virgin Mobile still get inclusive roaming in EU destinations.

If you’re travelling further afield, most networks allow you to buy a travel add-on, so you can use your phone without worrying about running up a huge bill.

If you want to find out more before you fly, check out our complete guide to data roaming.

How much does it cost if you go over your data limit?

How much data do you need? Data allowance explained (7)

Most networks will now warn you when you’re about to go over your data limit, allowing you to purchase add–ons rather than paying per MB. If this keeps happening, be sure you upgrade your deal, as it’s cheaper than constantly paying out.

SIM-only contracts make it easier to do this. Also, networks like Smarty and VOXI allow you to easily tweak your data allowance every month depending on your needs and usage.

How much it's likely to cost you for going over your allotted mobile phone internet limit varies, depending on which tariff you have chosen and which network you are with.

However, in some cases it gets very expensive when you exceed your mobile data limit. So it’s important to find a tariff that matches your needs.

What is a fair use policy?

How much data do you need? Data allowance explained (8)

Some mobile networks simply limit your internet usage rather than charge extra when you exceed the data you've paid for. This is called a 'fair use' policy.

It means that you may not incur an extra charge when you use up your monthly allowance, but you may be penalised if you go over by what the network decides is 'fair'- often around 500MB.

But that's not all. Some networks that favour fair usage policies will reduce your internet speed until your monthly allowance renews, so you will not be able to stream long videos or download large applications.

It’s worth contacting your network and asking them to explain this policy fully. That way you can either change deals or at least get to grips with how much data you’re using each month and work out how to moderate it.

What about 5G data services?

How much data do you need? Data allowance explained (9)

5G is the next big thing in mobile, delivering speeds that exceed home broadband.

5G is considerably faster than 4G, and while this means that you'll be able to download entire HD movies in seconds, be aware that this will use up a lot of data.

Luckily, some networks have changed their plans a bit to accommodate 5G. For instance Vodafone's Unlimited plans work more like a broadband plan - you get unlimited data as standard but the price plans are varied by speed.

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What is a good data allowance? ›

Even 2GB will be cutting it close, so for some breathing room we'd generally suggest at least 3GB. Meanwhile, if you're using mobile data much of the day, every day, or using data intensive things like video streaming and tethering regularly, you'll probably want at least 50GB – and even that might not be enough.

How much monthly data allowance do I need? ›

To ensure you never run out of data, you'll probably need a monthly data allowance of around 20GB.

How much data capacity do I need? ›

Overall, for most casual smartphone users 64GB phone memory is enough, although many people prefer to choose between 128GB and 256GB. Those who use their mobile phone to the absolute maximum should consider phones with storage of 512GB and 1TB to avoid running out of storage space and suffering with a slow phone speed.

How much data allowance do I need on my mobile phone? ›

You'll probably be suited to a monthly data allowance of one to two gigabytes. If you spend more time viewing emails, browsing the web or Instagram, and you occasionally download photos, music or video to your phone, you're probably a medium data user.

Is 50GB a lot of data for a month? ›

Is 50GB of data enough for me? For the above average phone user, 50GB looks to be more than enough to last for a whole month's activity, particularly when you consider that you probably won't need to use your mobile data for that entire time if you have Wi-Fi at home.

Is 10GB a lot of data for a month? ›

How much is 10GB of data? According to Ofcom, the average person uses around 2.9GB of data per month, a statistic which is rising each year with the evolution of technology. That means 10GB is most likely more than enough for the average phone user.

Is 1 GB of data enough for a month? ›

How much is 1GB of data? Ofcom's 2021 report states that phone users (on average) opt for 4.5GB of mobile data for the month. In comparison, a 1GB bundle is a fair bit below average. This is a reflection of how much data we use these days - 1GB simply isn't enough for most!

Is 15GB of data enough for a month? ›

By most standards, 15GB is considered a fairly large data bundle. According to Ofcom's 2021 Market Report, the average monthly data used per mobile data connection was 4.5 GB. Considering this, 15GB is over triple the average!

Is 20 GB data enough for a month? ›

20GB per month is considered to be a fairly large amount of mobile data, alongside 30GB and 50GB. Ofcom's 2021 report claims that most users have an average of 4.5GB of mobile data for the month, so 20GB is definitely above average.

How many GB does the average person use per month? ›

Indeed, according to NPD, the average U.S. smartphone user now consumes a total of 31.4 GB of data on a monthly basis (a figure that includes both Wi-Fi and cellular consumption). That's up fully 25% from a year prior.

How many hours does it take to use 1GB of data? ›

A 1GB data plan will allow you to browse the internet for around 12 hours, to stream 200 songs or to watch 2 hours of standard-definition video. Nowadays, the key difference between mobile phone price plans is how many gigabytes of data it comes with.

Is 25 GB data enough for a month? ›

With 25GB of data, you could stream audio for a very long time each month, though it's unlikely you'd find time to listen to 578 hours of music! Needless to say, you would have more than enough data to browse the internet and social media. You'd also have plenty of room to watch videos too.

What counts as data usage? ›

Data usage is how much data your phone uploads or downloads using mobile data. To make sure that you're not using too much data on your data plan, you can check and change your data usage.

What happens if you use 100% of your mobile data? ›

You'll still be able to browse the web but playing videos and movies won't work. Your full internet speed will return at the beginning of the next billing month, when your data plan resets. Some providers allow you to go over your allowance without slowing your connection.

Is unlimited data actually unlimited? ›

In legal terms, cellular unlimited means any connection to the internet but not at any specific speed. Unlimited to a customer buying a data plan means they can get consistently fast internet connection speeds for as long as they want, and for whatever internet activity that they want to use it for.

What happens if you go over 50GB of data? ›

After 50GB, you still get unlimited LTE data but may at times notice reduced speeds in areas with network congestion.

Why is my data slow if I have unlimited? ›

Often, even if you have an unlimited data plan, your data has a limit beyond which the speed will slow down. Check with your mobile data provider if you're unsure what your limit is. If you have reached your limit, you may have to wait for the start of the next billing cycle for your data to speed back up.

How many GB is 2 hour movie? ›

Streaming Movies or TV

A 1080p HD 60 fps 2-hour movie averages 6 GB in file size. A 1080p HD 30 fps 2-hour movie averages 3 GB in file size. A 720p HD 2-hour movie averages 2 GB in file size. A Standard Definition (SD) 2-hour movie averages 1 GB in file size.

What uses the most data on a cell phone? ›

Apps. Apps are likely the biggest data users on your phone. Anything that needs to connect to the Web to update, refresh, or download will use cell data. This means all your social media and streaming apps, from Facebook to Twitter, Spotify to Netflix, will quietly eat up your data.

How many hours does it take to use 10GB of data? ›

A 10GB data plan will allow you to browse the internet for around 120 hours, to stream 2,000 songs or to watch 20 hours of standard-definition video.

Is it possible to use 5GB of data in a day? ›

How many hours will 5GB of data last for? Theoretically, you could browse the internet for eight whole days without stopping before hitting your 5GB limit! In a more practical example, you could browse for a couple of hours every few days for the entire month.

How long does it take to lose 1gb of data? ›

Exactly how quickly you'll burn through it will depend on what you're doing on your phone, with it lasting roughly an hour and a half if you're streaming standard-definition video, around eight hours if you're streaming music, through to several weeks if you're only sending and receiving basic emails.

How long does 8GB of data last? ›

A 8GB data plan will allow you to browse the internet for around 96 hours, to stream 1,600 songs or to watch 16 hours of standard-definition video.

How much cell data does the average person use a month? ›

This statistic displays the average monthly smartphone cellular data usage from 2016 to 2021. In 2016, on average a smartphone consumed 1.7 GBs of cellular data per month. That number is projected to reach 8.9 GBs in 2021.

How many days will 15GB data last? ›

15GB will last the average internet user several weeks, depending on which internet activities you are doing. If you are streaming video or music, expect 15GB to run out much quicker.

Will 100GB data last a month? ›

Your data should normally refresh every month or 30 days, so theoretically you have an average of 720 hours to fill a month. 100GB can last almost non-stop for the entire month, so you'd never have to connect to Wi-Fi if you didn't want to.

How long does 50GB of data last? ›

A 50GB data plan will allow you to browse the internet for around 600 hours, to stream 10,000 songs or to watch 100 hours of standard-definition video. Nowadays, the key difference between mobile phone price plans is how many gigabytes of data it comes with.

How much GB is unlimited data? ›

The standard unlimited data plan includes unlimited minutes, unlimited messages, and unlimited high-speed data up to a certain data cap. Usually this high-speed data cap is 22–23 GB. Some of the major carriers offer more expensive unlimited plans with higher data caps, exceeding 50 GB of data per month in some cases.

Is 40 GB data enough for a month? ›

With your 40GB of data, you'll be able to browse the internet for approximately 480 hours per month, to stream 8,000 songs online or to watch 80 hours of online video in standard definition.

Why is my phone using data when I'm not on it? ›

Mobile data is used in the background by some apps. If you keep it turned on, it will still be consuming your allowance even if you're not actively doing anything on your phone. Things get worse if you allow your apps to update using data.

What causes high data usage on cell phone? ›

What causes high data usage on a mobile phone? Streaming movies, music, and games is one of the main causes of high data usage on your smartphone, alongside downloading and uploading files, and updating apps.

Is 5GB data enough for a month? ›

For most trips, 3GB or 5GB of data will be enough to cover common internet usage. However, if you are planning on using the internet more or if you are traveling for a month or longer, you might want to consider cards with up to 7GB of data.

Is 2GB data enough for a week? ›

Browsing the net with 2GB will last for around 33 hours. So you could browse for around one hour per day before reaching your limit. Similarly, you could use social media for less than an hour each day.

Is 100 GB data enough for a day? ›

100GB is enough for most people in 2022, but it depends on which internet activities you do the most on a daily basis. Video streaming uses the most data, while email and browsing social media uses a lot less data. There are several tips to help save some data usage. Always use Wifi when possible.

How long will 30 GB of data last? ›

How long does 30GB of data last? For most people, 30GB of data will be more than enough to last for an entire month's allowance. When you're out and about, your phone needs to consume data to complete tasks you ask of it, such as browsing the internet or watching videos.

Is 4GB a lot of data for a month? ›

4GB should be plenty for the person who's never not connected to the nearest Wi-Fi network. That's enough to download one app, post about a dozen photos, visit 40 web pages and send about 100 emails per day. See this plan.

How long will 25 GB of data last me? ›

Frequent usage

25GB is roughly enough data for any one of the following: 1250 Hours browsing. 6000 Music Tracks. 160 Hours streaming music.

Do text messages use data? ›

You can send and receive text (SMS) and multimedia (MMS) messages through the Messages app . Messages are considered texts and don't count toward your data usage. Your data usage is also free when you turn on chat features.

Do you still use data while on Wi-Fi? ›

A Wi-Fi connection lets you connect to the Internet without using any cellular data at all. While connected to Wi-Fi, you can also download videos, TV shows, or movies to your phone or SD card to watch anytime at your convenience, with no data required.

What drains your data usage? ›

What uses the most data on your mobile device? Streaming HD video content is by far the biggest perpetrator when it comes to draining your monthly mobile data allowance, however it's the combination of everything you do your mobile device which adds up to your overall data threshold.

Is 100gb data enough for 1 month? ›

A data cap of 100 GB per month is probably not enough for home internet nowadays. You can burn through that much data in a matter of days—possibly even hours—if you're not careful. But you don't need to worry as much if you mostly do things like browsing and checking email while online.

Is 250 mg of data a lot? ›

250MB isn't a lot of data at all. It's one of the smallest data plans out there, and not many networks offer it any more.

Is 100GB data basically unlimited? ›

100GB is a huge chunk of data to have access to each month. It's widely considered to be as close to an unlimited data plan as you can get without taking that final step.

Is unlimited data really unlimited? ›

In legal terms, cellular unlimited means any connection to the internet but not at any specific speed. Unlimited to a customer buying a data plan means they can get consistently fast internet connection speeds for as long as they want, and for whatever internet activity that they want to use it for.


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