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How Much Smartphone Data Do I Need?

Updated on May 29, 2013
Estimating how much data is needed for a smart phone like Apple's iPhone isn't easy.
Estimating how much data is needed for a smart phone like Apple's iPhone isn't easy.

Estimating how many minutes of talk phone service we need each month is difficult, but at least we understand what a minute of talking is. It’s more difficult to estimate how many text messages we send each month, but at least we also understand what a text is.

But now we need to buy data plans for our smartphones. How much data do we need? How much data does it take to email, download web pages, stream music, watch movies, send photos or play games? How much data does my entire family need?

The amount of data it takes for each smartphone activity varies widely. It can take as little as a few thousand bytes of data or as much as several megabytes to send a photo, depending on its size and resolution. Similarly, the amount of data needed to download a single web page varies depending on its content, which might or might not include photos, audio or even video content.

So how can we estimate how much smartphone data to buy?

How to Estimate Smartphone Data Usage

To estimate how much smart phone data we need: (1) figure how many times each smartphone activity will be performed monthly by you and, if buying a shared data plan, each family member; (2) multiply the number of times each activity will be performed by the average amount of data needed for each activity; and (3) add up the total. To make the estimate more accurate, check your actual data usage when you get your monthly bill, and modify your plan.

Performing this estimate is simplified by using the following table with the example of a hypothetical family performing these activities each month: 1000 emails; 500 web page downloads; 15 hours streaming audio (music, podcasts); 6 hours streaming video (movies, YouTube); 10 hours gaming; 200 photos uploaded or downloaded). These activities are performed by one person or a family.

Table to Estimate Smartphone Data Usage

How Often Activity Done Each Month?
Average Data Usage for This Activity
Monthly Data Usage for This Activity
1000 emails
1 email = 10 KB
10 MB
Download Web Pages
500 web page
1 web page = 50 KB
25 MB
Streaming Audio (Music; Podcast)
15 hours
1 hour = 20 MB
300 MB
Streaming Video (Movies; YouTube)
6 hours
1 hour = 150 MB
900 MB
Online Gaming
10 hours
1 hour = 10 MB
100 MB
Uploading or Downloading Photos
200 photos
1 JPEG Photo = 3 MB
600 MB
1935 MB = 1.935 GB

Explanation of Estimate

The first step is to estimate how many times each activity will be performed monthly by you and, if buying a shared plan, each family member. In this example, you and your family will perform the following activities each month: send or receive 1000 emails, download 500 web pages, listen to 15 hours of streaming audio, watch 6 hours of streaming video, play 10 hours of online games, and upload or download 200 photos. Enter these numbers into the second column of the table.

The second step is to multiply the number of times each activity will be performed by the average amount of data needed for each activity. The average amount of data for each activity is show in the third column above. For example, each email takes an average of 10 KB (i.e., 0.01 MB). Thus, multiply the numbers in the second and third columns, and enter the result into the fourth column.

The third step in the estimate is to add up the total data usage. This can easily be done by adding up the amounts in the fourth column. In this example, the total is 1935 MB of data usage per month, or 1.935 gigabytes, which is entered into the bottom row of the above table.

Thus, in this example, this family could purchase a shared plan with 2 GB of data per month, or slightly more than their estimated need of 1.935 GB of data per month.

To make this estimate more accurate, compare the actual data usage with estimated data usage on each monthly cell phone bill and make appropriate adjustments. If the actual usage is 1.8 GB of data, then 2 GB is a good estimate for the amount of data needed. If the actual usage turns out to be 2.3 GB of data, then review the activities being performed to see if usage can be trimmed by enough to get down to the 2 GB data plan, or increase the data plan to avoid overage charges.


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    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I loved the table of data volume. Very interesting info!

    • aykianink profile image


      6 years ago

      For the record, I've heard they're flirting with that idea. People always fight back though. Also, some legislators want to charge 'postage' for e-mail. Haven't heard either in a while though.

    • tipstoretireearly profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New York

      Hi aykianink - Let's just hope our ISPs never get the brilliant idea to charge for our computer data usage! Thanks for stopping by.

    • aykianink profile image


      6 years ago

      " much data do we need to buy each month?" This is a powerful question. I'm sure youtube junkies eat up their 'data limits' well before the end of the month. Good math, very useful. I think I'd cringe if I had to add up the data amount I use on my computer. I tend to watch videos and listen to music "when I feel like it" which must be mulitple gigs at the minimum.

    • tipstoretireearly profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from New York

      Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully this info will be helpful.

    • sumila profile image

      soumaila adamou 

      6 years ago from abidjan

      Table to estimate Smart Phone usage data contains information very useful.

    • Oilersmyth profile image


      6 years ago from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

      Wow! Very useful hub, as soon as my contract ends, I'll refer to this hub to find a more efficient cell phone plan!


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