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If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘how much data do I need?’ you’re in the right place. Let us know how much time you spend online and we’ll work out how much data you’re likely to need and recommend the best plan(s) for you.
As the technology standard for cellular networks changes – 3G becoming old news, 4G is now standard and 5G well on it’s way- the amount of data we use is changing too. Naturally, when our download and upload speeds are much faster we tend to burn through a lot more data. On top of that, the quality of content we consume like videos & music have improved which also means more data consumption.
It’s normal to wonder how much data you need & at Half Cooked we have you covered.
We just need to find out how much time you spend online and what you’re doing (as in listening to music, watching streams or YouTube videos or just checking emails etc.) to work out how much data you’ll likely need. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Estimate Your Daily Internet Use
This might be a long read, but by asking questions about how much time you spend online we can work out how much data you’ll need. Please remember, if you’re using your handset as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, then you’ll be using much more data than usual.
How many hours a day do you spend browsing the internet?
Unless it’s a very badly optimised web site or a harmful one, web browsing should be fairly light on your monthly data allowance. On top of that, most web sites optimise their pages for mobile users so that pages load faster and use less data.
A regular web page is typically less than 3 MB and it should download in seconds or even less depending on your download speed. If you’re using your mobile phone for web browsing on a daily basis and for a few hours a day, you might end up spending up to 10GB per month just on web browsing alone. This is of course a bit of an extreme scenario, but it’s not impossible. Having said that, most mobile phone users also have broadband at home and they use their Wi-Fi most of the time, which saves a ton of regular mobile data.
Just find out how many hours you usually spend on web browsing and roughly how many pages you visit.
How often do you check your emails?
You should be fine even if you’re going through hundreds of emails on a daily basis. Even in the most extreme of cases checking your inbox and sending emails would only burn through about 1-2GB of data per month. The only way you can spend extreme amounts of data while checking your emails is when you click on download links such as WeTranfers etc. but in that case you’re actually downloading a file from a third party and you know the size of the file.
If you go through about 50 to 100 emails a day we’d recommend adding an extra 500MB to your plan and you should be good to go.
You can have a look at SMARTY’s data discount plans if you’re a light data user. The network offers competitive prices, plus you don’t have to undergo a credit check to join. The carrier’s data discount plans get money back for unused data at the end of every month with the base cost of £5 covering unlimited minutes & texts. SMARTY gives you your money back at the same rate you bought it, £1 per GB. They even calculate using remaining MBs, not GBs. Read our extensive SMARTY Review to learn more about the network.
How many hours a day do you spend on social media apps?
Social media applications used to focus on status updates and picture sharing, but that has changed and now their main focus is either short video stories or heavy video content, which means these apps now eat through a lot of data.
It’s hard to make an estimation because even a short video could burn through a lot of data depending on whether or not it’s high resolution. If you’re spending about 4 to 5 hours a day on social media apps we’d recommend adding 4-6GB of extra data to your monthly plan. Alternatively you can seek out price plans with free social media features. We strongly suggest checking out VOXI’s deals if that’s the case. The carrier offers unlimited free streaming on some of the most popular social media apps on all their plans. Read our VOXI Review to learn more or click below to head directly to VOXI’s official web store. There are no credit checks required to join VOXI, you can order a free SIM, purchase a price plan and start using your SIM straight away.
How much time do you spend listening to music via music apps?
Listening to music on your mobile phone via apps such as Spotify, Apple Music & Soundcloud can burn through your regular data allowance at a pretty fast rate. You can burn around 100MB of data per hour listening to music on your phone. If you’re streaming music for around an hour a day we’d recommend adding an additional 6-10GB of extra data just for streaming music alone. A way to reduce your data usage when streaming is to download your favourite songs to your device.
How many hours a day do you spend streaming videos on YouTube or Netflix etc.?
Streaming videos on YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus or watching a few Premier League games a week will burn through a lot of data, especially if the content you’re watching is in 1080p, 1440p or 4K. You could be burning through more than 1GB per hour with high quality content.
If you’re regularly watching videos, series, games or live streams, you shouldn’t opt for anything less than a very large data plan or a deal that comes with unlimited streaming for your most frequent apps. Alternatively you can opt for an unlimited data plan. Currently the cheapest unlimited data plan comes from iD Mobile for just £18 a month. You can read our iD Mobile Review to see if their service works for you.
If you’re looking for a free streaming provider then two networks stand out: Three and Sky Mobile. Three’s Go Binge perk lets you watch Netflix and TV Player without eating up your data and it’s available on tariffs with 12GB data or more. All Sky Mobile plans come with unlimited Sky TV streaming so you can watch your team’s Premier League and FA Cup games on your mobile without having to worry about your data allowance. Make sure to read our Three Review and Sky Mobile Review to learn everything you need to know about these networks.
How often do you use navigation-based or fitness tracking apps?
Applications such as Google Maps and Waze can also be fairly heavy on your data allowance if used for a couple of hours a day. It’s unlikely that you’ll spend as much time on a GPS tracking app on a daily basis.
When you spend an hour a day using navigation-based apps you’ll roughly burn through 1-2GB of data per month. If this is one of your main concerns you can just choose a light data plan from a network like giffgaff or even a PAYG based carrier like 1p Mobile. Make sure to read our giffgaff Review and 1p Mobile Review to discover more about these networks before you make your final decision. You should also have a look at deal with a data rollover feature if you’re unsure about how much data you might be spending.
How much time do you spend gaming on your phone?
Video games generally don’t use up a lot of data. When you’re playing an online game there’s always a constant data transfer happening, but this process is quite light and even if you spend hours playing an online game it’s unlikely you’ll exceed 1GB of data usage in a month. However, some games require heavy updates every once in a while, so just make sure you’re aware of that.
If you plan to use your mobile device as a personal hotspot for your PC, laptop or video game consoles you might want to invest in an unlimited data plan, as video games on these platforms require regular updates to play online and these updates are usually data heavy.
When gaming online, your latency matters more than your data allowance and if you’re a competitive gamer we’d recommend a price plan with 5G Coverage. You can have a look at EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone’s 5G deals to find the most suitable deal for you. Alternatively you can check out deals from mobile virtual network operators like Tesco Mobile or VOXI as they also offer 5G coverage thanks to their host networks.
Will You Use Your Phone As a Personal Hotspot?
If you’re planning to tether (use your mobile phone as a personal WiFi hotspot for other compatible devices) on a daily basis, or even a few hours a week you might end up needing a large data plan. You’re going to burn through your regular data at a much faster rate when tethering, even if you’re not actively using these devices, apps can burn through data in the background without you noticing. We don’t recommend anything less than a 100GB data plan if you’re going to tether, but the ideal choice would be to pick an unlimited data plan. SMARTY’s and Superdrug Mobile’s unlimited data plans are quite good and we strongly recommend them. You can have a look at our Superdrug Mobile Review to see all the other benefits you get when you sign up for their unlimited data plan.
Find Out If You’re a Light, Medium or Heavy Data User
According to OFCOM’s Communication Market Report which was published in July 2019, an average UK mobile network customer spends about 3GB of mobile data on a monthly basis. Keep in mind that since this report was published both the data speeds and 4G coverage in the UK for all the major networks drastically expanded and 5G is becoming more and more popular too. This means the average person is likely using even more data now and when 5G becomes available in more areas the average usage of data will increase too.
Now that we went through all the possible ways to use your mobile data, you should have a broad idea on how much data you’ll need each month. We’d say any price plan with 6GB or less data is for light users. You can do a lot with 6GB of data per month, but you’d always have to be careful and watch your video content on low quality to be on the safe side unless you’re using a Wi-Fi connection.
8GB to 20GB is for medium users. We think 20GB is more of a mid-high end tier though. You can freely watch videos on full HD, listen to music on Spotify for hours every day, game and browse the internet if you’re on a 20GB data plan. However, even 20GB of data may not be enough if you’re going to watch live streams every day, spend hours watching YouTube videos or binge watch Netflix Series.
20GB and more data are for heavy data users, but at this price point some unlimited data plans offer more value than a 100GB or even a 200GB data plan. There’s no need to dive into why unlimited data plans are so great, after all, it’s in the name, you get unlimited data every month to do whatever you please with your mobile device (keep in mind that some networks have fair usage policies or they may limit how many devices you can tether to. giffgaff even limits your download speeds once you use 80GB of your regular data allowance).
When you have a large data plan you can watch all the video content you want in HD quality or even 4K if it’s available. Listen to endless hours of music, while browsing the web and using your mobile data for anything you can think of. If you’re going to tether to other devices, you might need a tariff with 100GB data or more though. Again, it all comes down to how much data you’ll use. If you’re a very heavy data user then an unlimited data plan will be the best choice for you as it will offer more value than any other plan.
With Black Friday sales coming soon, you might want to wait before you sign a long-term contract with a mobile network though. Mobile network providers usually push their best SIM Only plans during this period. You can bookmark our Best Black Friday SIM Only Deals page to keep tabs on the best SIM only offers.
Fair Usage Policies & Roaming Charges
Picking an unlimited data plan is the safest bet, but some unlimited data offers in the UK aren’t truly unlimited.
O2’s unlimited data plans come with a fair usage policy, allowing you to use 650GB per month. SMARTY’s fair usage policy sets a limit at 1TB (1000GB), but in most cases unlimited plans are uncapped so you can use as much data as you like, as long as it’s for personal use.
Some networks may even throttle your download speed once you reach a cap. For instance, giffgaff’s unlimited data plan comes with a fair usage cap at 80GB. If you get past this point your download speed will be restricted to 384kbps between 8 a.m. and midnight for the rest of the month.
You should also remember that when abroad there are active fair usage policies for large data plans, meaning you won’t be able to use all your UK data allowance. The amount of data you can spend depends on your network’s fair usage policy. Past that point extra charges will apply. You can read our best UK networks for international roaming guide to find the right network for you.
At the end of the day, the most we can do is help you find out how much data you spend each month, and lead you towards the most suitable deal for you. If you’re going to sign a long-term contract with a mobile network you should accurately calculate how much data you’ll need. However, if you’re going to get a no contract deal from a network you can test the waters and find the most suitable deal for you by changing your tariff at will.
Some mobile networks will lock you in for a long time, but allow you to switch between their available plans too.
Once you find out which type of data user you are, rest should be rather easy. Alternatively, if you’re stuck with an undesirable contract you can try to cancel your contract and switch to a different network, but you’ll most likely have to pay a penalty-fee for leaving early.
Everyone at one point in time has experienced being low on data. Our mobile data is precious and most extra data-add ons are quite costly. Most mobile network customers tend to struggle with what little data they have rather than opting for a data add-on.
If you are constantly running low on data, some of these tips might help you save some data:
- Use free Wi-Fi services from O2 WiFi and Sky Mobile’s The Cloud – In the UK both O2 and Sky Mobile offer free Wi-Fi hotspots which are available to all mobile customers for free. There may be some free WiFi services nearby your frequent areas so check them out.
- BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers get exclusive free Wi-Fi – If you’re a BT Mobile or Virgin Media customer you get access to free Wi-Fi in millions of locations across the UK. This can help you immensely in saving data.
- Use data-free services from Three, Virgin Mobile, VOXI – Three’s Go Binge -as explained above- lets you stream Netflix and TV Player without burning through your monthly data allowance. You can also stream music on SoundCloud, Deezer and some other music apps without using your regular data allowance. Virgin Mobile customers get to use Facebook Messenger, Twitter and WhatsApp without eating into your data allowance, but video and voice calls are not included. VOXI offers a service called ‘Endless Social Media’, and it’s available to all their customers. This feature lets VOXI customers use unlimited data while they’re on Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook Messenger.
- Download your music, movies and series on your phone over our regular WiFi- Some streaming apps will let you download your content for free. If you’ve got an internet connection at home you can always opt for downloading a copy of your preferable content and stream it without having to worry about eating into your data allowance.
- Check the apps running in the background – Some applications continue running in the background and might eat a ton of data without you even noticing. Your device should give you a detailed report on which app uses how much data at all times including a daily report (unless it’s an old smartphone).
- Update your apps with your regular internet connection – Nowadays all the applications we use get updates on a regular basis. The data they consume can add up to a lot, when their updates are pooled together. Make sure to update your applications without using your mobile data.
- Download services to use them offline – We already covered music and some streaming apps, but did you know that Google Maps lets you download entire towns, cities and even regions. On top of that, when you download the content you don’t have to worry about getting decent 4G coverage.
- Data Rollover Plans – Many mobile networks offer a data rollover feature, meaning you get a second chance to use your leftover data from the month before. The policy changes from one network to another, but regardless data rollover is an amazing feature to have. Sky Mobile has the best one in the UK, allowing you to rollover your unused data for up to three years, keeping it safe in your Sky Piggybank.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I check how much data I used so far?
You can check your current data allowance via your mobile network provider’s website. Some network operators have mobile apps so you can just login to your account and check it on the app.
How much does it cost when I go over my data limit?
There isn’t a single answer to this question as each mobile network in the UK treats this situation differently. Make sure to check out all the additional costs and extra fees you’ll end up paying if you go over the limit.
What is a fair use policy?
Fair use policies usually apply to very heavy data plans or unlimited data plans. Some mobile network operators like O2, SMARTY etc. offer unlimited data plans, but they actually limit your data allowance. O2 for example lets you spend 650GB per month. The fair use policies also extend towards inclusive roaming when you’re abroad. Each network provider has a different fair use policy.
What can I do with 1GB of data? How long does it last?
If you’re a very light data user, then a 1GB data deal might be the most ideal plan for you, unless you want to opt for a PAYG tariff. With a 1GB plan you can browse the web, check out your social media accounts and check your emails for half an hour a day. You can also stream music for about 6 to 10 hours, and/or watch a few medium quality videos. However, some YouTube videos are badly optimized, meaning while the overall can look bad the file size can be in hundreds of megabytes. This would drain your data quickly, so be careful.
What can I do with 4GB of data? How long does it last?
4GB data plan is usually the sweet spot for light data users. You can watch a couple videos or watch a few movies etc. per month, and you can use your mobile data for about 2 to 3 hours per day while checking your emails, browsing the web and your social media. Keep in mind that these are all educated guesses as file sizes can be huge, while the video quality can be bad.
What can I do with 10GB of data? How long does it last?
10GB of data is quite good if you want to watch videos on YouTube or stream music, movies, series and such. However, with 4G download speeds becoming a standard for all the mobile networks in the UK, you can expect to spend data at a much faster rate. You can casually browse the internet and your social media accounts for hours on a daily basis.
What can I do with 30GB of data? How long does it last?
With 30GB of data you’re mostly covered to stream all types of content, check your emails and browse the web and social media freely. It’s not easy to burn through 30GB data on your mobile device on a monthly basis, but it’s definitely not impossible. Streaming 1440p videos or 4K videos will chew up your data allowance quite fast. Even binge watching a series with multiple seasons can use up more than half of your data allowance. Add tethering to other devices into the mix and 30GB may dry up before the billing date.
What can I do with 50GB of data? How long does it last?
For heavy data users 50GB is usually the sweet spot, or it used to be in 2019. The average mobile customer doesn’t need this amount of data. With 50GB of data you can watch content in 1440p for hours every day without worrying too much about your data allowance. However, if you’re planning to download a lot of content, tether to other mobile devices or PCs and video game consoles etc. you’ll burn through a lot. Updates alone eat through a ton of data every month.
What can I do with 100GB of data? How long does it last?
100GB of data is ideal for very heavy data users, but then again, at this price point there are some great unlimited data deals on the market. You can watch hundreds of hours of video content on high quality and if you lower your quality to medium, then even more, while doing everything else regularly as well. With 5G becoming available in more locations 100GB data plans will surely become more popular too. You can also tether freely with a 100GB data plan, but we’d still recommend opting for an unlimited data deal as you won’t have to worry about your data allowance at all.