How much mobile data do I need?


Ben Gran
Jan 30, 2023
bullet8 min read

Everything you need to know about cellular data and how much mobile data you need

What is cellular data?

Cellular data is what allows your phone to stay connected to the internet—by transmitting data using the carrier’s network—when you’re not connected to WiFi. In the same way that mobile phone service lets you make calls or send texts, your mobile data plan allows you a certain amount of cellular data per month.

Whenever your phone has access to a WiFi network, your phone should automatically use that instead of your cellular data. But if you’re on the go, cellular data lets you still send emails, connect with friends and loved ones via social media, watch videos, and more.

It’s important to have enough cellular data so that you don’t exceed your limit and incur additional charges. For more on that, check out How much data do I need on my cell phone?

Best mobile data plans

We recommend unlimited data plans if you can afford them, since you'll never have to worry about exceeding your data allotment and then getting charged a pretty penny for it. Of course, you can always get a lower-cost prepaid data plan instead—especially if you don't use much data in a month. Check out our specific recommendations below.

Plan
Price
Data allotment
Check it out
T-Mobile Magenta® Max $85.00/mo.Unlimited 5G and 4G LTE Premium Data
T-Mobile Magenta®$70.00/mo.100 GB/mo.
Verizon Welcome Unlimited$60.00 per line per month, plus taxes and fees* Unlimited 5G data
Cricket More Nationwide $60.00/mo.**Cricket More gives you Unlimited Premium Data that does not slow based on your usage
Mint Mobile Unlimited$30.00 per month Data is unlimited, but you get only 35 GB of high-speed data (5G and 4G LTE) per month. Thereafter, speeds are slowed.
Mint Mobile 4GB/month$15.00 per month4GB of high-speed data and unlimited data (at slower speeds) thereafter
Visible+$45.00/mo.Unlimited premium data on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network

Disclaimer: *Limited time offer as of Jan. 17, 2023. **Get a $5 bill credit when you sign up for Auto Pay.

Make sure to check the different mobile service providers’ network coverage for where you live and frequently travel; not all networks might offer the same level of high-speed connectivity in the places where you want to go.

How much data do I need on my cell phone?

The amount of cellular data you need depends on how you use your phone. For example, if you only want to use cellular data to send emails and listen to music or podcasts, you might only need 5GB of cellular data per month. But if you want to do higher-bandwidth activities like online mobile gaming, video calls, and streaming video, you’ll want a 100 GB of data plan at least—or more likely an unlimited data plan.

Activity
Cellular data usage
GPS (Google Maps) 3-5 MB per hour
Streaming music30 MB per hour
Interactive online gaming60 MB per hour
Video streaming (high definition)900 MB per hour
Video-call (FaceTime, etc.)480 MB per hour

The exact amounts of data used will also depend on whether you’re using a higher-speed data network, such as 5G or 4G LTE. And keep in mind that 1 GB = 1,000 MB. So every hour of high-definition video streaming while you’re on cellular data is using almost 1 GB of your monthly limit. If you use cellular data for high-bandwidth online activity for 2 hours per day or more, you might need a truly unlimited data plan.

Even if you have an “unlimited” cellular data plan like some of the ones mentioned above, keep in mind that not every plan offers unlimited high-speed data. Depending on your carrier and your plan, you might find your speeds slower once you’ve reached your monthly limit.

So how much mobile data should I need?

Some people need more cellular data, while some are happy with less. Let’s look at a few examples of people who might want different levels of cellular data in their monthly phone plans:

Low-Bandwidth Linda: Linda uses her mobile phone mostly to send texts and emails to her children, listen to music while at the gym, and use Google Maps while running errands. She doesn’t stream videos on her phone; she saves her TV watching for the big screen in her living room.

Recommendation: The Mint Mobile 4GB plan, for $15 per month, would be great for Linda. She doesn’t need a lot of data, so she doesn’t need to pay for it. 

Mid-range Marvin: Marvin has a small collection of mobile apps and watches a few YouTube videos on the go; he also likes to listen to podcasts while he’s driving. He’s recently started to play a few online video games with his grandchildren, and sometimes he finds that by the end of the month, his mobile data is too slow because of it.

Recommendation: The Cricket More or Verizon Welcome Unlimited plans will get Marvin the unlimited data that he needs to keep his speeds from slowing down.

High-intensity Heather: Heather is an active, on-the-go young adult who uses her phone as the center of her life—constantly making plans with friends, video-calling multiple times per day, uploading photos and videos onto social media, and watching high-def videos and listening to music. She needs a top-of-the-line data plan that matches her busy, high-speed lifestyle.

Recommendation: T-Mobile Magenta® Max is the unlimited premium data plan that can keep up with Heather. This gives her the flexibility to use her phone as often as she wants, for high-bandwidth activities, wherever she goes.

What is background data?

You might think that your phone is using cellular data only when you’re actively doing things like watching a video or scrolling through social media, but there’s a special function called “background data”  or “Background App Refresh”  that your phone uses to update its apps and receive new emails and texts, even when you’re not using the phone.

If you want your phone to constantly refresh your apps and maintain optimal performance, even if you’re not on WiFi, then background data can be a good thing. But if you’re worried about using too much data, then background data could put your data limit at risk—and drain your battery.

Understanding background data, and how to use it, can help you have a better experience with your data plan.

What does allow background data usage mean?

If you allow background data usage, you’re giving your phone permission to constantly search for new app updates, sync emails and messages, and connect to new information behind the scenes, even if you’re not using your phone. This can be helpful if you want to receive new emails and text messages without delay and keep your apps automatically updated.

But if you’re concerned about battery life and data limits, turning off background data can help you have better control over your phone.

How to turn off background data

For iPhone

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Select “General.”
  3. Go to “Background App Refresh.”
  4. Select “Off.” (You can also choose “WiFi” so that your apps will only refresh when connected to WiFi.)

Note: When your iPhone is in Low Power Mode, Background App Refresh is automatically turned off.

For Android 

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Select “Network & internet.”
  3. Select “Data Saver.”
  4. Toggle the switch to turn on “Use Data Saver”—this feature will stop all of your phone’s apps from using data when the apps are not actively in use.

Note: Even while Data Saver is on, you have an option called “Unrestricted Data” that allows up to 3 apps to keep using background data.

How do I turn mobile data on?

Mobile data is different from background data, and fortunately, turning it off to save your data usage is even easier.

For iPhone:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap Cellular Data or Mobile Data.
  3. Slide the button to Green (on).

For Android:

  1. Open Settings app.
  2. Tap Network & internet  Internet.
  3. Next to your carrier, tap Settings .
  4. Turn Mobile data on.

How do I turn mobile data off?

For iPhone:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap Cellular Data or Mobile Data.
  3. Slide the button to Grey (off).

For Android:

  1. Open Settings app.
  2. Tap Network & internet  Internet.
  3. Next to your carrier, tap Settings .
  4. Turn Mobile data off.

Should I turn cellular data on or off?

If you want to have constant connectivity, even when you’re out of the house and on the go, you should usually keep cellular data “on.” Especially if you have an unlimited data plan, keeping cellular data turned “on” gives you the freedom to connect to the internet, share photos and videos, get information anywhere, and stay in touch with loved ones no matter where you go.

But if you’re on a smaller data plan and don’t want to exceed your limit, you might want to turn your cellular data “off” in certain situations—like if you’re coming up to your monthly data limit or if you’re traveling to other countries and don’t want roaming charges.

If you find yourself constantly worrying about your data usage, you might want to scale back your phone usage generally or switch to a bigger data plan.

How do I check my data usage?

Your mobile phone service or device will show you your data usage, including a breakdown by app. If you’re concerned about how much cellular data you’re using, it’s easier than ever before to see where and how you’re using data.

We’ll show you how to check your data usage on different phone types and mobile service providers.

How to check data usage on iPhone

  1. Go to Settings > Cellular or Settings > Mobile Data.
  2. Scroll down to see which apps are using cellular data.

If you don’t want certain apps to use cellular data, you can switch data usage off for each app—just flip the button from Green (“on”) to Grey (“off”). The apps will still work, but they connect to the internet only when you’re on WiFi.

How to check data usage on Android

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap Network & internet  Internet.
  3. Next to your carrier, tap Settings .
  4. The top of the screen will show the total amount of data usage.
  5. To see more details, tap “App data usage.”
  6. To choose a time period, tap the Down arrow .
  7. To see data usage per app, look below the graph.

How to check data usage on Motorola

Here is an example of how to check data usage on the Motorola Edge 5G UW:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Choose “Network & internet.”
  3. Choose “Mobile network.”
  4. Tap “Data warning & limit.”
  5. From here, you can change your data usage cycle, set up a mobile data warning, or set a mobile data usage limit.

Settings might be different between Motorola devices, so if you're looking for another device's data usage settings, check motorola.com.

How to check data usage on Straight Talk

Text the word USAGE to 611-61,1 and you will receive a response with your account’s estimated data usage.

T-Mobile data check

T-Mobile sends you a free text message to notify you when you’ve reached 80% of 100% of your data usage. You can also:

  1. Log in to your T-Mobile account at T-Mobile.com
  2. At the top menu, choose “Usage”
  3. Select “Data”
  4. Choose “Download my usage records”
  5. Save the file to your desktop

Verizon data usage

Dial #DATA (#3282) from your mobile phone; Verizon will send you a free text message with an estimate of how much data and messaging you’ve used so far during your billing cycle.

You can also go to the My Verizon app and check the My Usage section of your account.

How to check Mint Mobile data usage

Log into your Mint Mobile account and check under the section for monthly data usage—or check the settings on your phone.

Check Visible wireless data

Visible doesn’t let you check your wireless data usage. Use your phone’s settings instead.

Mobile data FAQ

What uses a lot of mobile data?

The activities that use the most mobile data include video streaming (especially high-definition video), video calls and conferences, and interactive online video games.

What does mobile data usage mean?

Mobile data usage is the total amount of cellular data that your phone uses per month. Think of it like this: every time you use your phone to do something online—and you are not connected to WiFi—you have to use a certain amount of data. Most cellular data plans only allow a certain amount of data per month—or you can pay more for unlimited data.

Do text messages use data?

Text messages, also known as SMS messages, do not use data and do not count toward your cellular data usage. Most cell phone plans offer unlimited texting and calling, even if the data plan is not unlimited.

How long does 1 GB of data last?

1 GB of data is approximately equivalent to 1 hour of high-definition video streaming.

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

It depends on what you do during that hour. But if you’re watching HD video, you can use up almost 1 GB of data in 1 hour.

Is 100 GB enough data for a month?

For most people, 100 GB of data is more than enough data. But if you’re a heavy-duty online gamer who watches 4 hours of HD video per day, and you’re constantly using your phone as a mobile hotspot, 100 GB probably isn’t enough.

How many hours of Netflix is 100 GB?

It depends on how high-quality the video you want to watch is. At the highest-quality setting, Netflix uses 3 GB of data per hour , so 100GB would give you a little more than 33 hours of video streaming.

What wastes most mobile data?

Video requires more bandwidth than other activities, so avoid it if you want to seriously cut down on your data usage. Switch to voice calls instead of video calls, and wait to watch Netflix, YouTube, TikTok, or other video apps until you’re on a WiFi network.

Ben Gran
Written by
Ben Gran