What is mobile data?
Mobile data is a form of technology that allows you to access the internet while not connected to Wi-Fi.
It’s most commonly used when people are out and about, away from their home routers. Mobile data can also be used abroad (known as ‘roaming’) to allow you to get online whilst on holiday.
Mobile data speed
Depending on your phone and plan, you’ll have access to different speeds of data. 4G is the most common speed, but if you’re in a bad signal area you may fall back to rely on the previous generation, 3G. The next generation of mobile data speed, 5G, is starting to become more widespread.
Mobile data allowance
Depending on your data plan, you will also have access to different amounts of mobile data. If you find yourself relying on mobile data over Wi-Fi quite often, you might prefer to opt for a higher data bundle, or even an unlimited data plan.
What uses mobile data?
You’ll need mobile data whenever you ask your phone to do something that requires accessing the internet.
Some of these activities include:
- Browsing search engines, like Google or Bing
- Sending, receiving, or refreshing your email inbox
- Sending or receiving iMessages (iPhone only)
- Using video chat apps like FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom
- Using social media and messaging apps, like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp
- Streaming videos on platforms such as Netflix or YouTube
- Streaming songs or playlists on music apps like Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube Music
- Playing games that need a signal and internet connection
- Saving progress in a reading app
- Updating and downloading applications from the App stores
- Using navigation apps, like Google Maps
- Accessing and refreshing news apps
- Using banking apps to send, receive, or manage finances
- Accessing online calendars and organisation apps
- Using shopping apps
- Using cloud storage apps
- Checking the weather online or on an app
- Using some photo-editing apps
How much data do activities use up?
Some of these tasks will use up more mobile data than others. It depends on how data demanding the activity is. For example, streaming videos typically consumes more data than browsing the internet.
Check out this table to see how much mobile data is typically consumed by each activity.
Browsing the internet
Listening to music
10.8MB per hour (24kbps)
43.2MB per hour (96kbps)
72MB per hour (160kbps)
144MB per hour (320kbps)
1GB per hour (standard definition)
3GB per hour (HD)
Watching YouTube videos
1.56GB per hour (1080p)
2.7GB per hour (4K)
Browsing social media
90MB per hour (scrolling)
156MB per hour (interacting)
Using Skype / FaceTime
*Approximately 1,000MB (megabytes) fits into 1GB (gigabyte).
Depending on how big your data plan is, you’ll be able to do some of these activities for hours on end without coming close to your cap. Alternatively, others could consume your allowance in less than 24 hours if you’re not careful!
If you stream high quality videos often whilst not connected to Wi-Fi, you’ll want a bigger data allowance, or even unlimited. If you only tend to browse the internet and social media, or play a few songs each day, you’ll save money with a small data bundle.
Should you always leave mobile data on?
In short - it’s best you don’t.
Leaving your mobile data on constantly will drain your battery. Leaving it turned on means it will be running in the background of some apps, consuming small amounts of your allowance even if you’re not using your phone.
Keep an eye on your mobile data usage to track how much you’ve used so far in the month and ensure that you’re not reaching your allowance too quickly. Most SIM plans don’t allow you to exceed your allowance, but you could run the risk of burning through your credit with a pay as you go plan.
Is mobile data secure?
As with any technology, there will always be risks involved.
If you’re concerned about the overall safety of using mobile data, take a look at our in-depth guide.