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You’ve been browsing, streaming and navigating your way through the first first weeks of the month when all of the sudden, it hits. And by it, we mean your monthly data limit. Now, your videos are buffering, your webpages barely inch towards loading and you can forget about hosting a FaceTime unless you’re connected to a reliable Wi-Fi connection.
Understanding the way mobile data usage works is the best way to manage your monthly cellphone bill and your day-to-day usage so you don’t feel abandoned at the end of every month. We’ll break down how mobile data usage works and the best plans to choose if you can’t get off your phone.
What is mobile data and how does it work?
Mobile data is what gets your cellular device online every time you’re away from a Wi-Fi connection. Anything you do using the internet (email, web browsing, apps) is done using mobile data and your cellular network to keep you connected.
Mobile data usage is measured in gigabytes (GB) and typically, the more data you have allotted in your monthly plan, the longer you can browse to your heart’s desire.
Because it’s such a hot commodity, cellular providers typically put a price tag on data allotments. “Unlimited data” plans, or those with the highest monthly data limit, ring up at the higher end of the pricing spectrum.
Is an unlimited data plan worth it?
For those that find themselves doing a lot of internet activity away from their home Wi-Fi connection, an unlimited data plan is almost always the best deal. And it sounds too good to be true — unlimited data for a couple extra dollars a month. However, the data allotment is never truly unlimited.
Many big-name providers have unlimited data plans that, in the fine print, actually include a larger data limit (usually in GB) than lower-tier plans. Once you hit that point, your speeds will be throttled until your data plan resets. So, not truly “unlimited.”
How will I know I’ve reached my data limit?
Many providers will allow you to monitor your mobile data usage throughout the month so you can manage as needed. However, when you’ve hit your data limit, you’ll likely know without having to check your account. Common online activities will take much longer to load and complete without connecting to a public or private Wi-Fi connection.
How much data do I need with my cellphone plan?
That will depend on how much you rely on your phone for internet-connected activities outside of your home and which activities those are.
Things like gaming and video or audio streaming are well-known data drainers, but to get a better idea of where your data is spent, take a look at some estimates from AT&T.
|Activity||Amount of data used|
|4K video streaming||5.85GB/hr.|
|HD video streaming||2.5GB/hr.|
|SD video streaming||.7GB/hr.|
|Uploading one image to social media||5MB/photo|
|Sending emails (without attachment)||20KB/email|
|Sending emails (with standard attachment)||300KB/email|
|Viewing a web page||1MB/pg.|
Source: AT&T data calculator
If you’re worried about managing your monthly mobile data usage, consider how often you’re doing the activities above without connecting to a Wi-Fi connection. Cutting back on just a few of these data vampires can save you data where it counts for future use.
Will I need unlimited data for a 5G plan?
5G networks will allow devices to transfer more data faster than ever. That’s the good news. But it will also use up most limited data plans fairly quickly if you’re a moderate smartphone user. If you’re looking to experience all that 5G has to offer (better streaming, faster downloads etc.), you’re going to need to spring for the highest data allotment providers have to offer.
AT&T’s 5G customers can choose from two plans if they’re looking to access the AT&T 5G network — Unlimited Extra for $85/mo. and 50GB of premium data or Unlimited Elite for $95/mo. and 100GB of premium data.
Unlimited data plans from Sprint will automatically come with access to their 5G network including Unlimited basic for $60/mo., Unlimited Plus for $70/mo. and Unlimited premium for $80/mo. Shop based on video streaming quality, hotspot data allotment and free subscriptions to services like Hulu and TIDAL. All plans include unlimited data up to 50GB each billing cycle before throttling.
According to T-Mobile, “all T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile plans include access to 5G at no extra cost.” With either the Essentials, Magenta or Magenta Plus plans, you’ll receive unlimited talk, text and data up to 50GB/mo. before your connection is prioritized by the provider.
Three plans are available if Verizon subscribers are interested in 5G access. The Play More Unlimited plan starts at $90/mo. and includes 25GB of premium data. For the same price, subscribers can get the Do More Unlimited plan which comes with 50GB of data each month. The highest data allowance is offered with the Get More Unlimited plan which starts at $100/mo. This plan comes with 75GB of premium data each month.
Looking to learn more about 5G, wireless service and how to pick the best plan for you? Bookmark our Resource Center for a first look at our updates.
Image credit: Getty
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Written by:Taylor Gadsden
Writer, Broadband & Wireless Content
Taylor is a veteran member of the Allconnect content team and has spearheaded a number of projects, including a data piece on the top fiber cities in the U.S. and a troubleshooting guide on how to connect your p… Read more
Edited by:Trey Paul
Editor, Head of Content
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