mobile data on phone

What uses data on a mobile phone?

Want to know more about mobile data? You’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we discuss what mobile data is, what it’s needed for, and our best tips for keeping an eye on your usage.  

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. 


Data consumption

Browsing the internet

60MB* per hour

Listening to music


10.8MB per hour (24kbps)

43.2MB per hour (96kbps)

72MB per hour (160kbps)

144MB per hour (320kbps)

Watching Netflix

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


270MB per hour



180MB per hour

*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.

Feel free to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to be the first to know when we’ve published a new article!

No commitment, no limits
No commitment, no limits

With no commitment you have the freedom to flex your usage whenever you need to.

Powered by Vodafone
Powered by Vodafone

Powered by Vodafone with up to 99% UK population coverage.

Cap your spend
Cap your spend

Put a limit on how much you spend every month so you don't need to worry about getting a big bill.

Consistently helpful customer services team, good network coverage, no contract commitments, excellent value for money.


I get what I pay for and it all works fine. Now the billing issues from the switch to Vodafone network have been sorted, job's a good 'un.


Solid service, good price. I work abroad but keep my UK number and buy a bundle when I'm back in the country.


Very good network cover especially in remote countryside and best date deals and flexibility to change monthly plans.


Asda Stores Limited (registered address: Great Wilson Street, Leeds, LS11 5AD) trading as Asda Money, acts as a credit broker not a lender, and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Asda Stores Limited only offers finance from a restricted range of finance providers. Finance provided by PayPal Credit. Terms and conditions apply. Credit subject to status, UK residents only. ASDA Stores Limited acts as a broker and offers finance from a restricted range of finance providers. PayPal Credit is a trading name of PayPal (Europe) S.à r.l. et Cie, S.C.A. 22-24 Boulevard Royal L-2449 Luxembourg.