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How much Data does Streaming use?

how much data does streaming use

On those awfully long train rides without a stable wifi connection, you might find yourself scrolling through your phone worrying that catching up on the latest episode of your current show could use up all your data allowance. But how much data does streaming actually use? Of course this is a very broad question, as it depends entirely on what you are streaming, how long for, and the video quality or audio quality. This guide aims to answer all your questions to help you understand exactly how much data you could be using.

How is mobile data measured?

First things first, mobile or cellular data refers to the internet available on your phone plan. Data is measured in Megabytes (MB) and Gigabytes (GB). These are metric units, meaning 1000 MB equals 1 GB in data.

How much data you have available, depends entirely on your phone plan. Typically this renews on a monthly basis and can be topped up in need - although this is generally fairly expensive and poor value. For this reason, it is good to have an understanding of how much data is being used up when streaming content.

What uses up my data?

Even if you are not actively streaming content on your mobile phone, your data allowance might still be going down, even if only by a little bit. For instance, automatic updates of your apps could be running in the background without your specific instruction. Whilst this shouldn't take up too much data, a software update on your phone could be between 500 Mb and 1 or 2 GB, which depending on your allowance could be significant. Similarly, all your social media apps and emails are refreshing, updating, downloading in the background to send you push notifications. These can quietly eat up your data without knowing. 
Of course, you can always go into your settings and turn this off, when you're near reaching your data usage limit.

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Whilst your apps in the background might slowly eat away at your data, it is streaming that makes the biggest dent.

How much data does video streaming use?

In general, video streaming uses more data than just streaming audio. How much exactly, depends on a number of factors such as length, and quality. Below we have listed some figures for various streaming services and lengths of use, based on estimations and calculations. For this reason, the actual number might differ slightly, however this should give a good indication.

How does video quality affect mobile data?

Most streaming services allow you to select the video quality in their settings. This is because the higher the quality, the more data is being used to stream the video. If you have a poor connection, your streaming service typically adjusts the quality automatically, however if you are simply conscious of your mobile data you can always lower it yourself. 
Similarly, music streaming services let you choose whether you want to listen to your songs on low quality, normal quality, or high quality. 

How does video length affect mobile data usage?

10 minute YouTube video

  • 480p (Standard Definition): 93.75 Mb
  • 720p: 310 Mb
  • 1080p: 506 Mb
  • 4K: 2.6 Gb

20 Minute Video Call

Whilst the platform used on the video call can make a difference, typical usage numbers for a 20 minute call are as follows:

  • Zoom: 180 - 540 Mb depending on standard versus high definition
  • Skype: 90 - 450 Mb depending on standard versus high definition
  • Facetime: 60 Mb

30 Minute TV Show

  • Netflix: 500 Mb in standard definition, 1.5 Gb in high definition
  • Disney+: 1.1 Gb in high definition, no data available for standard definition

1 hour TV Show/Film

- Netflix: 1 Gb in standard definition, 3 Gb in high definition
- Disney+: 1 Gb in "save data" mode, 2.2 Gb in high definition, 5.1 Gb in 4k/HDR

2 hour Film

- Netflix: 2 Gb in standard definition, 6 Gb in high definition
- Disney+: 2Gb in "save data" mode, 4.4 Gb in high definition, 10.2 Gb in 4k/HDR

3 hour Film

  • Netflix: 3 Gb in standard definition, 9 Gb in high definition
  • Disney+: 3 Gb in "save data" mode, 6.6 in high definition, 15.3 Gb in 4k/HDR

Whether you are streaming Netflix, Amazon prime or Disney+, figures are relatively similar. 

How much data does music streaming use?

Streaming just audio uses up less data than streaming video. 

Based on a 3 minute song, Spotify's data usage is:

  • 2 MB per song (Normal setting)
  • 40 MB per hour (Normal Setting) 
  • 3.5 MB per song (High Setting) 
  • 70 MB per hour (High Setting) 
  • 7.5 MB per song (Extreme Setting*) 
  • 150 MB per hour (Extreme Setting*) 

*Extreme Setting is only available for Spotify premium users, and allows for very high quality music streaming.

Other music streaming platforms like Apple Music,Tidal, Amazon music and YouTube music will have similar figures. With the latter however, figures will only be similar YouTube is used for audio only, as videos would use up much more data.

How much data does online gaming use

Surprisingly, online gaming does not take up as much as video streaming. Depending on the game, an hour of online gaming uses between 40 Mb and 250 Mb of data. If you are bored on a train journey and looking for entertainment, gaming might be the more data economic choice over Netflix streaming. 

If you are concerned about usage however, we would recommend googling the exact figures for the game you want to play, as they tend vary.

Using mobile data vs. Wifi

There are benefits and downsides to both wifi and using mobile data. Mobile data for one, tends to be more expensive on a monthly basis compared to wifi. Although mobile, you might not always be able to access it when travelling or being in particularly busy or remote areas. Still, if you are a heavy user, it is worth looking into unlimited data plans to allow high definition streaming for whenever you need it. This also comes in handy when your home wifi network fails, as you can switch to mobile data when in need.

Similarly however, wifi isn't always available especially when you're out and about. Even if you can find a Wifi network, it is possible that it is limited in its data allowance, making it useless for any video streaming. 

The best solution is therefore to use a combination of both, for your internet needs. If all else fails, make sure to have a couple of podcasts, some music or a show downloaded when no other option is available to keep you entertained! 

Monitor your data usage

Most streaming platforms automatically adjust the audio quality or video quality of your stream depending on the connection you have available. Despite this, it is advisable to keep an eye on your data usage if you are not on an unlimited data plan. 

You will be able to monitor your usage by checking your mobile phone's app, or sometimes website. There you should also be able to buy extra data or upgrade your plan. Keep in mind however that this could become very pricy. If you keep running over your allowance, we recommend waiting until your contract runs up to select a more suitable plan for your needs.

Your plan details usage can also be found your monthly phone bill.

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