How much mobile data do you need, and can you ever have enough?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
How much mobile data do you need, and can you ever have enough?
With more and more carriers going to tiered data plans, we're interested to revisit the subject of just how much data the average user needs. If you ask the average user, most will likely say unlimited, but carriers seem to think most users will accept 2-3 gigabytes of data as enough of a monthly allotment.

Last week we briefly lost our internet connection, and turned on the mobile tethering feature of our smartphones. It was remarkable to watch the data counter keep track of how much data we were using, even as the computer sat idle checking email and synchronizing several email boxes. In less than an hour, we managed to rack up over 250 megabytes, or almost 15% of the total 2GB monthly data allowance for the phone used, just checking email.

This brought up the question, how much does someone need? For each user the answer is a little bit different. Some smartphone users enjoy the freedom to download movies on the go, a bandwidth consuming action if done over the wireless carrier's network. Others enjoy streaming music such as Pandora or iHeartRadio. We've heard many people who have racked up large data usage bills because the user enjoys live streaming GPS applications that consume large amounts of data downloading maps real-time while driving across the country.

Here's some interesting facts about what the carriers say users can do with 2GB of data:

- Download up to 10,000 plain text emails
- Download up to 1,500 emails with documents attached
- Visit 4,000 web pages
- Post 500 photos on social media sites like Facebook

While the carriers market the statistics showing how much users can do, we felt it fair to also post the realistic limitations of the same 2GB of data allotment. With 2GB data, a user can:

- Download 2 high definition 720p movies
- Post 40 videos on social media sites like Facebook
- Download 285 high quality MP3s
- Stream high quality music for as much as 4 hours a month
- Use a live updating GPS app to drive from Los Angeles to Seattle

We think it's very interesting to see the difference between the carriers' representation of what a user can do with such amount of data, and the representation of what many smartphone users can do using the features popular on advanced devices. Before smartphones, the carriers' list of things 2GB can do was representative of an average user, but many users new to smartphones don't realize just how data hungry these devices are, and find themselves facing data cutoff or throttling, or worse, overage charges when the user surpasses the monthly data allotment on the plan.

What do you think is a reasonable data allotment for a modern smartphone? How much data have you used in any given month? Do you think it's fair for a carrier to sell a phone by advertising features that when used can exceed your data allotment in such a short period of time?



1. CommentBoxEnforcer

Posts: 99; Member since: Feb 13, 2012

I think unlimited is reasonable....if u paying why not offer unlimited even if it will cost u a arm and a leg every month

2. draconic1991

Posts: 200; Member since: Apr 27, 2012

It is wrong of the carriers to promote their data plans in such a fashion cos those people new to the smartphones can definitly be fooled. The amount of data sufficient...its actually kind of impossible to determine..once u get used to the internet or worse get addicted to it, even if there was a limit of a 100 gb it would still not be enough and would still bother u..

32. vincentguariglia

Posts: 13; Member since: Apr 28, 2012

My first smartphone was on AT&T with the unlimite data plan. I then went over to Sprint but there was no service in my area so I picked up Verizon with unlimited data. I currently have T-Mobile with 2Gb data plan and at first I thought it wouldn't be enough and I was always using wifi. One month I decided to use no wifi and just my data because T-Mobile would only throttle me. Turns out I used less than half of 1Gb. As long as you don't do a lot of video and music streaming everyone should be fine on that standard 2Gb plan.

33. draconic1991

Posts: 200; Member since: Apr 27, 2012

ya thats what i said...once u get used to it or addicted..otherwise its absolutely upto each person...a person using net on the mobile solely for business purpose may be happy with 1 gb (say) even on lte because he;l only be downloading some small but important files..

38. dcoogan77

Posts: 1; Member since: Apr 15, 2014

100GB of data over a single month... And a limit this high would BOTHER you?! Sarcasm, I hope. To those of you wondering if a cap of 100GB/month is sufficient... It's beyond sufficient. Even if you were to download two MP4 1080p HD movie torrents per day, you'd still be left with anywhere from 20-40GB, which is plenty to spare... Plus, you now have a library of 60 HD movies! I currently have an unlimited data plan, but when I'm home, I'm on Wi-Fi. I typically use 250MB of mobile data per month... at best.

3. rawbow

Posts: 428; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

Interesting article I must say. I am from India and we have had 3g services here for quite a while but it is still not very popular here. Most of the flagship owning crowd here still use edge and I can barely afford a 3g data plan here with a cap on 2 gb which costs around 12USD ..and that is excluding talk time and SMS... ...and for smartphone users even 10 gb ain't enough if you have such high speeds.

4. TheRetroReplay

Posts: 256; Member since: Mar 20, 2012

I have unlimited data on my Galaxy Nexus and I've used about a gig of data in a month and that was with heavy usage. My Xyboard however, I've come nowhere near the 2 gigs of data that I've been allotted and I've downloaded lots of apps and done a tone of websurfing and watching videos on YouTube. However I think that data caps are going to be replaced with unlimited or that caps will get bigger and bigger at lower and lower prices to the point where it doesn't matter because our rapidly evolving technology will require it.

26. Markizzle21

Posts: 30; Member since: Dec 28, 2011

You aren't doing anything crazy if you come to one gig a month. I can easily sit on top of 30gb a month. Especially if someone likes netfilx from their phone. 1 hour of that and say bye bye to a gig. Carriers are ripping off customers with this stupid gig stuff especially with the 4g LTE out there. With the capabilities to do so much they limit you to hardly anything. I'm a verizon rep at a retailer and I don't even feel comfortable pitching 4gb of 4g lte a month because now a days its garbage.

28. miles16852

Posts: 241; Member since: Oct 20, 2011

Aint that the TRUTH Markizzle!! THIS ity bitty 2g and 5gb is a flat out JOKE!!!!! for LTE,,,, 2 & 6gb is for toddlers! preshoolers!

5. Tajeshwar

Posts: 9; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

1GB is enough for one month usage under 2G 2 to 5 GB under 3G ... thats enough and will fulfil all your smartphone needs

17. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

I would sort of agree. 5gb for 3g, and 7-10 for 4g. I consider myself a heavy user, but I rarely go over 6-7 gb. I stream music all the time while I'm in the car, I use GPS at least 2-4 times a month. And occasionally tether about 1 gb of data when out and about. I watch hulu, and netflix probably once every two days. So I would be ok with a 10 gb cap if I didn't have unlimited. And I consider myself an extremely heavy user. I don't like the unlimited plans for the data hogs that use it as their primary internet service. That I do have a problem with.

30. miles16852

Posts: 241; Member since: Oct 20, 2011

14545,,, NOT sure what EXACTLY your watching on NETFLIX 'once every two days' LOL, with only reaching 6 or 7GB, you must be watching 10min of everything you watch, especially if its ONLY once every 2 days!! yah right! , it should be 25GB MINIMUM for LTE! and nothing less! and you are NOT by NO means a HEAVY user! LOL

29. miles16852

Posts: 241; Member since: Oct 20, 2011

Tajeshwar , i DONT think so, not under 4G LTE!!

6. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Based on PA's 'real world' experience, I suspect that 2 Gb/month for a smartphone is probably on the low end. I am running around 2.5 to 3 Gb/month on my RAZR with a mix of e-mails with attachments, GPS use, web surfing and occasional tethered hotspot use with my notebook. I signed up for the 4 Gb/month for the price of 2 Gb/month promotion that VZW offered when I purchased the RAZR; so for me, 4 Gb/month @ $30 is kind of the sweet spot.

7. Shubham412302

Posts: 581; Member since: Nov 09, 2011

i cant think of using 2 gb a month even on edge network i use more

8. jroc74

Posts: 6023; Member since: Dec 30, 2010

I have unlimited and tiered data. 2GB isnt enough if you really use the web and do other things that require data. 10GB might be enough. 5GB...maybe. I do have LTE tho. On 3G..2GB....maybe...

9. jaytai0106

Posts: 1888; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

I think this question really depends on the person. I have 2GB plan on AT&T but usually only use about 300mbs-500mbs a month. However, my phone usually connects to wifi at home and while at the gym. Some people can probably hit 5-10GB easily and it really depends on what you are doing with your phone on the go.

10. gp284

Posts: 120; Member since: Feb 25, 2012

I got a 4G phone when Verizon had their 4gb promo thing going on. I've never gotten past about 3.6 gb, and that only happened when I downloaded ten 23 min tv shows, and that was around when my data cycle restarts. I usually only use about 1gb a month.

11. shadowcell

Posts: 300; Member since: Mar 28, 2012

Tiered data plans is a punishment not a better business model. I believe everyone's situation is unique but with more and more smartphone capabilities becomes accessible, we can only hope our carriers are paying more attention. My everyday lifestyle now involves heavy audio/video streaming and I can tack on up to 4-8GB a month. I'm not abusive but I do enjoy having access to Google Music, Netflix, Hulu Plus and Youtube on my smartphone. Why should I be penalized just because I'm using whatever my smartphone could do?

35. PlayboyPenguin

Posts: 3; Member since: Jul 30, 2004

If your "everyday lifestyle" involves such heavy streaming why do you not have wifi? Why should a company providing cellular coverage be expected to cover all your entertainment needs for an extra few dollars a month? Do you feel they owe you a particular lifestyle just because you pay for a phone and a mobil data plan? If you want more then pay for more and stop expecting to be subsidized by the people who use less and do not hog all the bandwidth.

37. Lunarautumn

Posts: 1; Member since: Dec 28, 2013

That's a crock ! He should be able to use what ever is on his phone, as much as he wants PERIOD ! Otherwise sell a phone that is just a PHONE, with no other options. " Oh look you could check your e-mail, and use Netflix, and youtube, and facebook on your PHONE, But DON'T because it is a phone, not a laptop or a tablet " give me a break, what do you work for the cell company PlayboyPenguin LMAO

12. Captain_Doug

Posts: 1037; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

I reached 10GB this month with a 3G phone. I would definitely say that that is a lot and way more than i usually use but if i want or need to use more data, I don't wanna worry about it. Having unlimited data(grandfathered) is one of the biggest selling points for me to stay with Verizon. I don't have too many reasons to not leave but I don't even look around anymore. If I can use 10GB with a 3G phone, I'm sure I'll use more with a 4G phone. On the other hand, my wife uses no more than 500mb a month. I'd say 50% of all people with smartphones don't go over 500mb. There's definitely room for those that use it to have unlimited data.

13. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

I have a 3g phone and i average 7-14gigs a month most months. if i didnt have true unlimited i would use wifi a lot more, but i dont want to. :) google music tethering netflix downloading ROMS, ebooks, stuff from the play store constant internet usage (how do u think im always on the site when im bored lol)

14. -box-

Posts: 3991; Member since: Jan 04, 2012

I think tiers are a good idea, but there should be more variety and lower prices. I see data consumption the same way I do gasoline or other consumption of purchasable goods. "If you want to play, you gotta pay" the saying goes. Want to use your phone for watching movies instead of a TV or computer? Pay extra for the convenience. Want to take a road trip across the country? Pay for the gas, tires, and other vehicular upkeep. Want to get a home theater system and have friends over every night to use it? Gotta buy the equipment, pay for the programs or movies, and pay the electric bill. There's smart ways of lowering billable data usage. Sideloading videos and music are a huge help, as well as playing games just over WiFi, which allows the phone to act as mostly and e-mail and internet access device, which tends to use the least data, being mostly text-only (and can be all text, depending on browser). Speaking of browsers, having a data-friendly browser helps as well, such as Opera which compresses the data for the user making browsing times faster and data consumption lower

18. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

While I agree to a certain extent, 2 and 4 gig caps are wayy to low. We already pay a premium for having "internet" on our phones. My home internet costs 35 a month for 8down 4up. My mobile data costs me 60 a month for two phones. So I am already paying said "premium". They were making killer money with the unlimited plans, so what changed? The demand increased, but enough to chop the plans off at the ankles? And you talk about side loading, well I can't really "sideload" from hulu or netflix. Not to mention, then I have to "predict" what I am going to want to watch in the future. So my point is that we already "pay extra" for "convenience". If my "data" had been capped in 07 when I first signed up for it, I wouldn't have gotten it. Unless it was a reasonable car of 5-10 gb. 2-4 gig is completely unreasonable. One more comment about sideloading, the manfacturers are trying to get us to move away from this, just look at apple and google, they want you to purchase from their "stores". So they are limited access to removable media, as well as doing away with it all together in some cases. So that feature will soon be a thing of the past. Which means we will be more reliant on that data connection than ever before. At a time when we can't use it. While I agree that caps are necessary to prevent abuse, THEY NEED TO BE REASONABLE. 2-4 GB IS NOT REASONABLE.

15. jimjam unregistered

about 50mb is fine for me for email and browsing some webpages now and then. Not sure what everyone else is doing all day on their phones.... perhaps I have more of a life.

20. 14545

Posts: 1835; Member since: Nov 22, 2011

I stream music going to and from work and school. That adds up to about half of my normal 5-6gb a month usage. Then I use netflix and hulu when I am on my breaks at school and things of that nature. But I still don't see how you are only using 50 gb a month. My fiancee does no multimedia whatsoever, and mainly only reads news sites, and has one push mail account, and she uses 800 mb to 1 gb a month.

16. Das70

Posts: 124; Member since: Jan 05, 2011

I myself would not pay any of the outrageous prices that the big 2 (att and verizon) charge for their limited data. I would not even pay the $25 for the unlimited data Verizon used to charge. It all depends on the user I suppose. Lets face it realistically most people use their smartphone data mostly for entertainment purposes. As long as people are addicted to watching youtube clips, tvshows, listenting to mps, tethering etc. on their smartphones data is not going to get any cheaper. I decided a long time ago that I needed unlimited minutes and Verizon and at&t were not up to the task of offering an affordable plan on minutes. I am now on metro pcs. Unlimited minutes and text and of course data for $50. Works good enough for me. I can do almost anything on my phone that a LIMITED data/text/minute verizon customer can do at less than half the price. Yes its a little slower but dooable IMO. I am not about to pay $120(with 2 gb) on verizon for the same I can get on Metro just because they have faster download speeds. Thats $840 more per year. Equals FOUR car payments to me.LOL Foolish way to spend money IMO.

19. Hildy

Posts: 34; Member since: Nov 23, 2011

Unlimited. Watching video just sucks up too much of a data plan. I don't watch movies and I don't need HD, but I would like to be able to watch various sites that stream current or archived TV shows without worrying about how close to my data limit I am.

21. Sleepy

Posts: 13; Member since: Apr 26, 2012

there is never enough data for everyone!

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