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How much is 1GB of data? Your data needs explained

Thomas McMullan
15 Jan 2021
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Cut through the confusion with our guide to mobile phone data usage

We’ve all been there. Your mobile contract is up for renewal and you’re thinking about changing your data plan, but you have no idea how much you need. ‘How much even is 1GB data?’ you ask yourself, weighing your phone in your hand like it's a tin of beans.

To be serious, data is a slippery resource to measure. While you may be pressed by your provider to opt for an ‘unlimited’ package for peace of mind, there might be a much cheaper option to suit your needs.

Thankfully, we’re here to help. Below is our definitive guide to mobile data allowance, in terms that are easy to understand.

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What will 1GB of data get you?

These days, 1GB tends to be the bare minimum when it comes to data plans. Exactly how quickly you’ll burn through it will depend on what you’re doing on your phone, with it lasting roughly an hour and a half if you’re streaming standard-definition video, around eight hours if you’re streaming music, through to several weeks if you’re only sending and receiving basic emails.

Even those activities will depend on specific data demands, from the sound quality of music you’re listening to, through to how graphically intensive the webpages are that you happen to be browsing.

Clearly, though, if you’re eyeing up a 1GB monthly data plan, you’re not going to be using your phone to watch Netflix on the train. You may be able to squeeze in a few minutes of Spotify or Apple Music each day, or a few games of Fortnite a week, but you’ll probably be using the phone as a basic communication device - sending and receiving messages, checking emails, and some light internet browsing.

That said, if you’re planning on spending the majority of your phone time connected to Wi-Fi, it may be the case that you only need 1GB to keep things connected when you’re out and about. If you already have a contract, it’s definitely worth seeing what you actually use in terms of mobile data each month before deciding if 1GB is enough going forward. You can do this on an iPhone by going to Settings | Cellular or Settings | Mobile Data. On Android, go to Settings | Network and Internet | Data Usage.

How much data do I need?

As touched on above, the answer to this will very much depend on what you use your phone for. If you’ve decided that 1GB is too paltry for your needs, the next question – and probably the more difficult one – is whether you need 10GB, 50GB, 100GB, or unlimited data.

Vodafone has a handy data calculator on its website, which will give you an estimated monthly data usage based on how many minutes you spend doing various things each day on your phone. Spend an hour streaming the radio, for example, as well as 30 minutes social media browsing and 40 minutes browsing the internet and checking emails, and it recommends a 10GB allowance. Add in an hour of video streaming each day and that shoots up to 37GB. Vodafone clearly has an interest in selling you larger data packages, but this does fall in line with our own experiences of data usage.

To help give a sense of where you might fit into this spectrum, you’ll want to think about your own phone habits.

'I only use my phone every so often for keeping in contact with friends and family'

You keep up with the family WhatsApp group, check your email, and maybe occasionally look at Twitter and Facebook.

You don’t stream videos or play many online games on your phone away from Wi-Fi.

If this sounds like you, you’re likely to only need between 1-5GB per month.

'I use my phone for work and like to go on social media'

You spend a lot of time checking email on your phone, which involves sending and receiving attachments. You also spend quite a bit of time across social networks, from Facebook and Twitter through to TikTok and Instagram.

You’ll stream some radio or music when you’re out and about, and occasionally stream movies or TV shows.

If this sounds familiar, you’ll probably need around 10-20GB per month.

'My phone is my media centre'

You use your phone extensively for work, and it’s also your go-to place for entertainment, whether that’s social media, movies and music, or games.

You send a lot of photos and videos to friends and family, often when you’re away from a Wi-Fi connection. You like to watch Netflix when you’re travelling, play online games, and listen extensively to Spotify or Apple Music.

If you fit this description, then you might want to consider a larger data package, from 30-40GB upwards.

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To reiterate, the best way to get a sense of your data requirements is to see how much you’re already using. You can do this via your handset, as outlined above, or you can do this via your provider. Before signing up for a new data package, check on what you actually go through in a month.