How Much Data Do You Need?
If you’re signing up for a mobile phone contract then one of the most difficult decisions you have to make is what kind of data limit you need. Mobile data is the most expensive part of a contract, and whilst it’s easy to guess how many minutes and texts you want (and cheap to get unlimited minutes and texts), data is a whole different story. That’s why today we’re looking at mobile data and all you need to know to make a great decision for your next mobile contract.
The Basic Terms
Before we get into detail, let’s just take a second to talk about how data is measured. We measure data in Kb, Mb, and GB. A thousand kilobytes (Kb) make up one megabyte (Mb), and a thousand megabytes make up a gigabyte (GB). When you sign up for a data limit you usually see that limit in either Mb (for smaller plans) or GB (for larger plans). Just what those terms mean in practice is a bit of a different story, and we’ll get to that next…
The Reality of Data
The problem with deciding on a data limit is that whilst we all know how long a minute is, not many of us have any idea of what a Kb or Mb is worth in practice. What data is worth in reality varies a little bit due to all kinds of factors, for example opening a web page with lots of pictures on it uses up more data than opening up a page with no pictures on it, and some internet browsers even compress data, meaning you use less.
Just as a general guideline though, and keeping in mind that actual usage can vary, we can give you a few rules of thumb. Downloading a picture takes about 2 Mb, whilst downloading a song takes around 5 Mb. Opening a web page, checking your email, or downloading a document all take around 100 Kb each. Watching video uses around 1 Mb per minute.
Why Your Limit is Important
Deciding on a realistic data limit is important for one big reason: money. It can be very tempting to sign up for a big data plan, but those tend to be expensive, especially if you don’t even come close to using up all that data. On the other hand, a cheap, low data limit plan might seem cost effective, until you realise that once you go over that limit you’ll be paying premium prices for any extra Mbs of data that you use, making this a bad long term plan.
Which data limit is right for you is a very personal decision, and really depends on how you use your mobile and what you want to pay for. Again, we can only give you general guidelines here, but we’ll do our best…
Which Data Limit is Right for Me?
We divide phone users up into three categories: light, medium, and heavy. Deciding which of these categories you fall into should help you choose the right data plan. A light phone user is one who only occasionally uses mobile data. You might check your email a couple of times a day, send a message or two, maybe check out an interesting video clip someone sends you, or surf the web for news. You don’t use more than an hour of internet a day on your phone and don’t play mobile games often. For you, a low limit should be fine, anywhere around 200 Mb per month should work out.
A medium phone user obviously uses more data than a light user. You regularly check your email using a client like the Gmail app, you download apps a couple of times a month, and enjoy a little mobile gaming. You might watch a streamed video every so often (BBC iPlayer, for example), and maybe download a song or two. You enjoy browsing the internet on your phone when you’re commuting or before bed. A good limit for you is around 500 Mb or so per month.
Finally, a heavy user is one who is almost constantly online, using instant messaging services like WhatsApp, Viber or Skype for communication rather than SMS, one who likes watching videos or playing a lot of mobile games, someone who downloads plenty of apps, and who gets lots of emails with attachments. For you, a 1 GB limit should be the minimum.
Some Considerations When Choosing Your Limit…
Aside from those general rules, you might want to keep a couple of other things in mind. Firstly, when your phone is connected to the internet via WiFi you are NOT using up your data limit. This means that even if you’re a heavy user you might not need a large data limit if most of your data use is at home or work when you’re connected to a WiFi network.
Second, there can be unpleasant surprises if you’re not careful about what you download. Occasionally large game apps can use huge amounts of data, and operating system updates tend to be large too. You will be able to see how large a download is before accepting it, and you might want to keep an eye on this.
Most phones do allow you to set data limits on the devices themselves, and this can be a good way to ensure that you don’t go over your limits. With most mobiles you’ll need to go into your settings menu, then the data menu, and you should then see an option that lets you set two limits. The first, lower, limit will trigger an alert message so you know you’re getting low on data, and the second will switch data off on your phone so you can’t go over your limit until the next month’s billing cycle starts. The app My Data Manager is also a useful way of doing this if your phone can’t handle it natively.
Choosing a data limit isn’t easy, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Fortunately, many operators these days are relatively understanding, and will let you change your data plan either by upgrading or downgrading your contract (which may cost a fee), or by adding extra data packages to your plan (usually more cost effective). Choose carefully and you’ll have all the internet you need, and save some cash too!