How Much Cell Phone Data Do I Need?

Everyone seems to want an unlimited data plan. Nearly every cell phone company you can name has unlimited plans, and they want you to subscribe to them. But do you really need unlimited data? Because if you don’t, then you might be spending way more money on a cell phone plan than you need to.

How much data do I use?

To figure out how much data you need, you first have to assess what you use your phone for. (While you’re at it, see how everyone else on your plan uses theirs.) If you watch YouTube TV for an hour on the train every morning, then you’ll need more data than your brother, who just checks his email and does everything else on Wi-Fi.

For an exact sum-up of your data usage, you can check your phone bill. You can also pull up your phone’s settings, but keep in mind your phone carrier will always trust their own data tracking first.

If you’re paying for an unlimited plan but your bill shows you or your family uses only 10 GB of data per month, then you might be able to switch plans and save money without cramping your style.

Which activities use the most data?

The biggest data hog is video streaming, but you should also watch out if you upload a lot of photos or stream a lot of music.

How much data do everyday cell phone activities use?*
ActivityAmount of data used
HD video streaming1.6 GB/hr.
SD video streaming500 MB/hr.
Audio streaming51 MB/hr.
Uploading high-resolution photos 5 MB/photo
Sending emails10 KB/email
Viewing a web page1 MB/pg.

Based on Verizon’s data calculator estimates. Amounts may vary.

Unless you and your family routinely watch a lot of videos using data, then you might not need an unlimited plan to keep everyone happy. Especially if all you really do is scroll through Facebook and send cat photos to your mom.

How do I limit my data usage?

The best thing you can do to limit your cell phone data usage is to stay connected to Wi-Fi as much as possible. If you have an accessible Wi-Fi network at both work and home, then you probably won’t use much data every month.

If you use Wi-Fi as much as you can and you still go through more data than you’d like, there are a few other things you can do to reduce your usage.

Tips to limit cell phone data usage:

  • Back up photos to Google Photos or iCloud only when your phone has a Wi-Fi connection.
  • Download music, podcasts, audiobooks, and videos to your phone only while connected to Wi-Fi so you don’t have to use data for music or video streaming later.
  • Check your phone’s settings to see which apps use the most cellular data and delete any you don’t need.
  • Watch and stream videos in standard definition instead of HD.
  • Turn off video autoplay on Facebook and other apps.


You might use less data than you think, and you might not need an unlimited plan if you or your family doesn’t have many data-heavy habits, like streaming college football in HD or downloading 4K-resolution movies.

  • Assess your individual or family data usage to see what kinds of things you do that use a lot of data.
  • Check your past phone bills and/or your phone’s settings to see how much data you use on average.
  • Stay on Wi-Fi as much as possible and reduce video and audio quality to keep your data usage in check.

Note: If you’re relying on your Wi-Fi to reduce your data usage, you might want to consider our advice on How Much Internet Speed Do I Need?