Working out your data requirements; How much data do you really need?

As high-data activities like TV and music streaming become the norm, high-speed internet plans are becoming an essential utility for a lot of Aussie households. So how much data are you using on your Netflix, Spotify, and social media? Knowing what you use gives you a good basis for choosing the right plan so you can avoid slowdowns or avoid paying too much for a plan you don’t need. Here are some important things to consider.

Why it’s important to calculate how much data you need

If you have a clear idea of how much data you need, you can ensure you’re on the right plan. You can pick a plan that closely fits your data demand and avoid paying too much for your internet. This could mean hundreds of dollars in savings over the course of a year.

  • Save money – By calculating your periodic data consumption, you might realise you don’t need an unlimited plan after all and your household could comfortably get by on a plan that’s the next tier down.
  • Avoid data slowdowns – On the other hand, knowing how much you need and upgrading to a higher tier plan could help you avoid throttling (your speed being slowed down until your next billing cycle starts). It can also help you avoid the dreaded data slowdowns if you’ve got multiple users at home using the internet at the same time. This is because higher-tier plans come with higher bandwidth speeds, not just data allowances.
  • Mobile broadband – If you’re on a mobile broadband plan (common for phones and tablets), you’ll likely be charged extra for going over your data allowance. So you’ll want to track your usage, say, with apps provided by your provider or by signing up for alerts for when you go over your allowance.

What are the biggest users of data?

Understanding the biggest users of your data can also help you work out where your data allowance is going. Music and video streaming are the most data-intensive users. Email, web browsing and social media tend to be the least demanding in data.

  • Web browsing – The typical web site is around 2.5MB and each person uses around 7GB in data on web browsing per month.
  • Video calls – Video calls use little data. Skype video calls might start at around 360KB per minute or 25MB per hour, so you’ll need to make 50 hours of calls to hit 1GB.
  • Social media – Photo-heavy social media platforms like Facebook might use up around 2.5GB per month.
  • Gaming – Games you play on systems like PlayStation and Xbox might require as much as 60GB per game download, while the actual playing might use up only about 50MB per hour, which is much less than you might expect.
  • YouTube – Catching some YouTube videos could use up about 100MB per hour (240p) at a minimum and up to 750MB per hour (1080p).
  • Video streaming – Streaming services tend to be the biggest users of data in Aussie households. Over 80% of households stream music or video and two-thirds stream daily. Netflix might use at minimum 300MB for an hour of streaming (for SD video quality), and up to 3GB and 7GB per hour of HD and 4K video streaming, respectively.  Furthermore, if you’re using a VPN to watch Netflix, it’s important to remember that you will still be using up data, even if you’re connected to Wi-Fi. When it comes to other services, Stan starts at 570MB per hour and HD and 4K data usage will be similar to those for Netflix.Amazon Prime Video might use up around 900MB per hour for SD video, 2GB per hour for HD playback, and around 5.8GB per hour of UHD/4K content. If you are planning on regularly streaming, it may be worth considering investing in an alternative streaming device other than your smartphone.
  • Other video streaming – TV-streaming services like Foxtel Now might use up around 1.4GB per hour of video. Optus Sport might use up 900MB per hour on mobile devices and up to 1.6GB per hour for computer-based streaming. For ABC iView, you might be looking at 300MB per hour, while for SBS On Demand it could be up to 675MB for an hour’s worth of video.
  • Music streaming – Music streaming through services like Spotify is another heavy data user, at around 150MB per hour of music streamed. Streaming for compressed audio formats can require around 500MB per hour.
  • Downloaded movies – Renting or buying videos from services like Google Play and iTunes might require at the minimum 1.5GB of data for SD movies, while HD movies might use 4GB or more.

How much data the average household uses

Data usage continues to soar across Australia, with the average Australian household using around 196GB per month, though the average Aussie household believes they need at around 380GB of data per month. Data consumption by Aussie homes will likely continue to grow at the average pace it has for the past five years or so: at 40% year-on-year.

So, how do you work out what you need in terms of data? Start by checking your past internet bills. These typically summarise how much data you’ve used in the past month. If you average out your usage for the past few months, you’ll likely get a good estimate of your ongoing data requirements. You can also use online portals, apps, and other tools offered by your service provider to track data usage as you go.

Monitoring your data usage to make savings

Data usage in Australian households is growing rapidly, and it’s helpful to know how much you use so you can get on the right plan and avoid paying too much. If you’re in a household with multiple streamers, shifting to an unlimited, high-bandwidth plan could mean avoiding frustrating slowdowns and congestion.

Luke Fitzpatrick
Luke Fitzpatrick
Luke Fitzpatrick is an academic speaker at Sydney University via Glecture. He enjoys writing about tech, productivity, lifestyle, and is a contributor to Forbes.
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