Advertiser Disclosure While this page may contain offers from our partners, our opinions are our own.

What is mobile data?


Jul 30, 2020 — 4 min read

Not sure what mobile data is? We’ll explain how it’s useful and easy ways to keep track of your mobile data so that you never have to worry about extra fees.

At Allconnect, we work to present quality information with editorial integrity. While this post may contain offers from our partners, our opinions are our own. Here’s how we make money.

Mobile data is what your cellphone uses to connect to the internet. How much you need depends on what you will be using your phone for and how often you will be using it. From there, you should be able to determine whether you can go with a limited data plan or if you need an unlimited data option. 

What is mobile data?

Mobile data is what your cellphone uses to connect to the internet when you’re away from a Wi-Fi connection. Wireless companies provide mobile data so you can make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages, stream videos, check social media and browse the web. However, making and receiving phone calls and sending and receiving text messages does not count against your mobile data. 

Data usage is measured by megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB). There are 1,000 MB in one GB. When you need to send or receive data with your cellphone, also known as uploading and downloading information, you are using your mobile data. 

What uses data on a cellphone?

Almost everything you do with your cellphone uses data. Common phone activities and the amount of data they use per hour:

  • Social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc.) use about 90 MB 
  • Music apps (Pandora and Spotify) use about 43 MB
  • Video streaming apps (YouTube TV, Hulu, Netflix) use from 600 MB to 1.2 GB
  • Gaming apps use about 40 MB to 300 MB

These are estimates from the U.S. Cellular data usage calculator and may vary slightly based on several factors. But this is a great starting point to help you make better decisions on what you need.  

Many carriers offer 2GB, 3GB or higher plans, as well as unlimited data options. If you’re only using your phone for calls, texting, social media and music, a 2GB plan might be the best option for you. However, if you are going to be watching shows and movies or playing games on your phone, you’ll need to go with an unlimited plan. 

Do you use mobile data while on Wi-Fi?

You are not using mobile data while on Wi-Fi. So, when you’re at home and connected to your Wi-Fi signal, you won’t be using up your mobile data. This is also true when you’re away — whether at a friend’s house or Starbucks — as long as you are connected to Wi-Fi. Bottom line: Stay connected to Wi-Fi whenever you can to save on your data. However, remember that a Wi-Fi connection is not as secure, so reconsider logging into your bank’s app while at the local coffee shop.. 

So, how do you know when you are using Wi-Fi or data? That depends on the type of phone you have. Android phones show a Wi-Fi signal icon on the top right of your screen. Apple iPhones show it on the top left. 

Why you should care about data usage?

Mobile companies are increasingly offering unlimited data plans at lower rates than even just a few years ago. It is much more common to find an affordable unlimited data plan, but if you’re only using your phone for music or social media, you can save some cash by choosing a limited data plan. 

Be sure to track your data so you don’t go over your limit if you choose a limited data plan. You will incur overage charges, which can often be very steep. 

How much data do you need?

How much data you need comes down to how much you use your phone.. You can start out with a limited plan if you know you won’t be using it for much. But if you’re going to be playing a lot of games or frequently streaming videos you are going to want to go with an unlimited plan to avoid those overage fees. Ask your cellphone company to set up an alert if you are about to go over your data plan usage. Another way to save on data usage is by putting your phone on airplane mode when you’re not using it to help save data usage.

How to track your data usage

Your cellphone company should have a way for you to track your usage. Here are some of the top companies on tracking data usage:

If you don’t see your plan here ask your provider for options on tracking your data usage. Any solid wireless plan should give you a way to track your data usage so you can see how much you are using. 

For more helpful hints on all things wireless, be sure to bookmark our Resource Center.

By Nicky LaMarco