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How much mobile data do you need? This quick guide will help you decide

Image of a smartphone displaying mobile data usage

Deciding how much data you need can be a pain – these tips can help you get it right

There’s nothing worse than being caught out at the end of the month with no mobile data left on your plan. For many, deciding whether to pay hand over fist for scant extra data or spend some time cut off from the internet is quite a worry.

Topping up outside of your contract can be expensive, but you don’t want to be paying more each month for data you don’t use either. So, if you’re about to renew your phone contract or take out a new plan – especially if you’re looking to change mobile provider – the smart thing to do is work out how much mobile data you’ll actually need before you commit to anything.

We spoke to Ofcom about data usage trends, as well as comparison company Uswitch, to pull together some tips to help you figure things out.

What is mobile data used for?

First, let’s get some basics straightened out. Mobile data is, effectively, what your phone uses to access the web while you’re out and about.

When you browse the internet or use apps, your device downloads the data it needs to work properly, whether displaying a web page, playing a YouTube video or just accessing the latest weather updates. Modern smartphones are designed to be connected, and so many apps, and even the most crucial activities, simply won’t function without a data connection, which includes using your video doorbell and most messaging apps – SMS messaging excepted.

So, the more you browse the web and download files, the more data you need. Most mobile plans parcel this out in one of two ways: you’ll either have a certain allowance that you pay for each month – the unit cost varying according to your contract – or you’ll have an unlimited allowance – this is often the most expensive type of mobile phone tariff.

It’s important to note that you’ll only be using your mobile data when you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network. If your phone can access the internet via Wi-Fi, whether that’s on your home network, at work or the free Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop, you won’t be using up your data allowance at all.

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What is a MB and what is a GB of data?

When looking at mobile data – both how much is included in any given contract and how much you use – you’ll find that it’s often shown as either MB or GB.

These stand for megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB), respectively, and they’re the units of measurement typically used for data. A megabyte is a relatively small amount of data – perhaps enough to download a single hi-resolution photo, or around a minute of mp3 audio – while a gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes – significantly more.

Most tariffs offer data measured by the GB, but there are still some entry-level tariffs that offer MB values. However, an average internet user can easily get through MBs of data without even trying, so think carefully before opting for the lowest amounts of data.

Is 1GB a lot of data?

The answer to this question will depend almost entirely on your usage. A single gigabyte is enough to do a decent amount of web browsing or watch a fair few YouTube videos in normal resolution so, by that metric, it is a good quantity of data.

Unfortunately, most people find they can burn through 1GB of data fairly quickly with regular phone use, so no: 1GB is not a lot of data. It’s highly unlikely to be enough to last month-to-month.

Simrat Sharma is a senior product manager at, and she told us: “As a rule of thumb, we’d usually recommend you have at least a 3GB contract per month.”

Note that Sharma says “at least”, suggesting that you’ll be safer and less likely to run out of data with more.

That said, you might find it’s enough if you rarely use your phone. Data usage can vary enormously between people.

Is 5GB of data enough for a month?

5GB is the amount of data included with many of the more affordable mobile plans, whether they’re SIM-only or not. That certainly might suggest it’s enough; however, Ofcom’s recent Communications Market Report indicated that the average mobile user’s data consumption is only going to continue to grow.

“We’re all using much more data than ever before, with the average person now getting through around 8GB a month”, an Ofcom spokesperson told us. “That’s about the same as browsing the internet for 96 hours, streaming 16,000 songs or watching 16 hours of video. Being online is increasingly part of our daily lives, and we anticipate this trend only increasing in the coming years.”

So, according to the research, even 5GB is not enough unless you’re below the average in terms of your data consumption or can exercise some serious restraint.

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So how much data do I need?

Based on our research, we’d recommend 8GB of data per month for the average user, as this is the national average according to Ofcom.

3GB of data per month is enough for only the absolute lightest of users, while 5GB of data is a good choice for those on a budget and willing to exercise restraint.

That said, the easiest way to decide how much data you need – especially if you’re worried that even 8GB won’t be enough – is to see just how much you actually use.

How much data do I use?

Most UK network providers have their own apps that you can use to check how much data you’ve used recently and how much you have left.

Image of a person using a smartphone with social media graphics floating above the screen

Let’s take EE as an example: If you open their app and scroll down the homepage, you’ll come to a section called ‘Mobile data left’ where, unless you have unlimited data, you can see how much you have remaining on your current billing cycle. Tapping on ‘View full usage’ will take you to a summary of your recent data usage which could help you get a sense of whether you’re using less than you’re paying for, or if you should think about a larger allowance next time your contract is up.

Other providers have similar functions in their apps but, while your mobile operator is arguably the best place to find out your data usage – that’s who you’re paying to provide the service after all – your phone also keeps track of how much data it‘s using.

If you have an Android phone, there are handy features to help you. On stock Android (ie. the kind found on a Google Pixel phone), you can find them like this:

  1. Open Settings, then tap on Network & Internet and then Internet.
  2. Next to your carrier, tap Settings.
  3. This will show you your data usage, but by tapping on App data usage, you can see breakdowns over time.

You also have the option to set data warnings and the date that your tariff resets each month, so you can keep a closer eye on your usage.

If you’re using an iPhone, do the following:

  1. Open Settings 
  2. Then open Mobile Service.
  3. Scroll down to see which apps are allowed to use cellular data and how much they have used.

To reset the data period, tap Reset Statistics at the bottom. This will allow you to track how much data each app uses during your billing cycle, but you’ll have to remember to go back and check it on the date your tariff resets.

How much data does YouTube or Spotify use?

If you’re a big user of specific apps, you might wonder how they impact your data usage. The easiest way to check this is by following the steps outlined above to see an app-by-app breakdown, but we have some general guidelines:


Spotify uses about 40MB of data an hour to stream normal quality audio, increasing to around 150MB on the highest quality. If you stream for around an hour during your daily work commute, after a month you will have used almost 1GB of data. Stream for three hours per working day and you’ll have chewed through at least 2.4GB in a month – proving that 3GB/mth likely won’t be enough for the 602 million monthly Spotify users out there.


Standard definition content on YouTube could use around 500MB an hour. Opt for higher quality – like 720p – and you’re looking at over 1GB an hour. Of course, video data can vary due to several factors, and these figures could be much higher. Stream YouTube in standard definition for just one hour per day on your commute and you’ll have used around 2.5GB of data in a single week – or a whopping 10GB in a month.

Social media

Social media apps, particularly video-focused apps such as Instagram or TikTok, can also use a lot of data, with TikTok using nearly 900MB an hour (meaning one hour per working day equates to 18GB/mth). And a FaceTime video call could use 300MB of data an hour, depending on the quality of your call.

Based on this information, we’d recommend a data allowance of at least 20GB/mth for heavy users. But if you’re looking to save money on your data tariff by opting for a smaller allowance, then the first step is getting control over your data usage.

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Quick tips for saving mobile data

There are many ways to save data, with the most obvious being to simply cut down on how much you use your phone.

The next best option is to use Wi-Fi whenever possible. If you can, use Wi-Fi to download songs and videos in advance with the apps that let you. Often, this will require a subscription, but there are download options on Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Music and Disney Plus, to name a few. There are also usually settings to restrict quality or prevent downloads via mobile data in these apps.

In your phone’s settings, there should be an option allowing you to toggle mobile data off entirely for each app – for example, you might set it so you can only refresh Instagram if you’re on a Wi-Fi connection. This certainly can help limit your data consumption, after a while though, you might find it tiresome. Similarly, you can prevent apps from refreshing in the background while you’re using mobile data, to stop them passively consuming, searching for notifications and the like.

Another great tip comes from Simrat Sharma, at She advises that you can save data when using Google Maps by switching to aeroplane mode: “Google Maps allows you to download entire towns, cities and regions, and this is particularly useful when travelling abroad and you’re concerned about being caught out with data roaming charges.”

Finally, on both iPhone and Android, there are quick settings in the control centre menus which allow you toggle mobile data on or off completely – a surefire way to quickly stop your phone from using up any more of your precious allowance.

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