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How Much Data Do You REALLY Need on Your Phone Plan

Calculating Your Data Needs

Tips for Getting Just the Right Amount

How much data do you really need on your phone plan? The basic features of mobile phone plans such as talking, texting, and voicemail seem to be dropping in price lately. In fact, if making calls is really all you did with your phone, you could probably get a really good deal on your contract. Many mobile service providers don't charge as much as they used to for minutes and texting because for them, that's not where the money is anymore.

So where is the money?

These days, it's all about data. And picking the right amount of data can make or break your phone contract. Pick too much, and you're paying for data you're not using; pick too little, and you'll end up paying extortionary overage charges. So in order to help you out, here's a quick guide to picking the right amount of data for your phone plan.

Data Usage Chart

Look at Your Usage History

The best way to figure out how much data you need is to look at your data usage history. If you currently have a device with a data plan, check your phone bill to see how much data you've been using. All service providers should provide a breakdown of how much data you use every month versus how much you've paid for.

Some service providers will also send you warning messages if you're nearing your data limit for the month, and will even limit your activity once you've gone over. If you're getting a lot of these types of messages, then it may be a good idea to consider upping your data plan.

Look at the Averages

If you haven't had a data plan before, or you're considering increasing your data, you can get a fairly good idea of how much data you might need by looking at national averages.

In 2013, the average American used less than 800 MB of data per month, according to Nielsen. As of 2015, however, that number has jumped to 1.8 GB per month, according to Mobidia. Part of that increase in data usage can probably be explained by the advent of 4G connectivity, which means that we can now use up more data faster than ever before, as well as the rising popularity of online video.

This brings up the question, then, of what exactly you'd like to use your data for.

Consider What You Do Most with Your Mobile Device

The average data user mentioned above probably uses their mobile device to check emails and social media, upload a few photos, browse the web, and download some apps. If you're this type of user, then you'll probably be safe with a data plan equivalent to or less than the national average. However, if you stream a lot of music, upload lots of photos, and watch a lot of videos, you'll probably want to look into a bigger data plan.

Also consider which activities will eat up the most data. Streaming music at 160 Kbps (average sound quality) uses up about 72 MB per hour, while watching a video in HD on Netflix could eat up anywhere from 1 to 2 GB per hour. Online gaming uses up an average of 5 MB per hour, and high-quality music streaming at 320 Kbps can use up to 150 MB per hour. In addition, it's estimated that each photo you upload requires about 5 MB of data, and each website you visit requires about 1 MB of data.

Consider Your WiFi Connections

Of course, the best way to conserve data is to make sure you're connected to WiFi as much as possible. So when thinking about how much data you'll need, it's a good idea to think about how often you'll be able to connect to WiFi as well. Do you have a strong network at home? At work? How often do you use your phone when you're away from a Wifi connection? Knowing where your WiFi networks are will help you determine how much data is enough. 

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