How much data do you really need at home?

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These days, the proliferation of cheap unlimited data internet plans means more and more households are hopping on the limitless bandwagon. But do you really need unlimited internet data? Depending on the plan and provider you choose, you could still save some money month-to-month if you assess your data use and pick an appropriate data-capped plan. The results could mean you save $200 or more over the course of a year. Here is a guide to how much internet data you may need, so you can pick the right type of plan accordingly.

How much data do I need?

The company responsible for rolling out the NBN – NBN Co – has indicated that those on its fixed wireless network use just 200GB data per month. However, fixed line residents may use a lot more, and if you’re a heavy streamer you may make use of an unlimited plan. Below is a quick overview of how far your data caps can go.

50GB 100GB-200GB 500GB Unlimited
Email & Browsing
Facebook & Social Media
Online Gaming
Music Streaming
YouTube
Streaming TV
Downloading Video Games & Updates

General guide only
Key:

  • Tick – Sufficient
  • Dash – Use Caution
  • Cross – Need More Data

Internet plans with less than 50GB these days are few and far between, but they are out there. While they are cheap, users do have to throw caution to the wind as anything other than basic browsing and email could eat up your data very quickly. Users with low data caps should use caution with Facebook and other social media, as videos can auto-play and easily chew up gigabytes of data.

How much data do particular activities use?

Not all websites and activities are made equal! Whether you’re a browser, emailer, Netflix binger or downloader, if you’re on a data-capped plan, you will have to be mindful of how much data you are using.

  • Facebook: Can use up to 2mb per minute, depending on if auto-play videos are set or not, plus the amount of multimedia content that is on your newsfeed.
  • Browsing: Australian Census data suggests that users browse the internet for about 48 hours per month. Considering the average size of a webpage, the average user can burn about 6-7GB per month on browsing alone.
  • Netflix & Stan: Use AT LEAST 300mb per hour. HD streams can use a minimum of 1GB per hour of streaming, while if you have the premium 4K plan, it can use up to 7GB per hour!
  • Foxtel Now: Foxtel Now – the streaming arm of Foxtel – uses about 1.4GB an hour for a Standard Definition picture, while HD can consume upwards of 3GB.
  • YouTube: Varies greatly due to the quality selection offer from channels and the choice of users. A 1080p video can burn upwards of 12mb per minute, though an average 480p video uses about 4mb per minute.
  • Movies from iTunes or Google Play: Downloading – buying or renting – a SD movie will use up about 1.5GB of data, while a HD movie can use upwards of 3GB. Of course, the longer the film, the bigger the download.
  • Music Streaming: The free version of Spotify streams at 160kbps – about 72mb per hour. The paid version streams at 320kbps or upwards of 150mb an hour. Apple Music streams only at 256kbps or 155mb an hour. Google Play music streams at 320kbps but can adjust based on the quality of your internet. Lossless – uncompressed – audio can use upwards of 500mb an hour.
  • Online Gaming: Online gaming may not use as much as you think. An average online game will use around 50mb an hour. Online gaming updates you have to be wary of: updates in a Call of Duty series, for example, can use upwards of 15GB and happen semi-frequently.

Likely the heaviest data suckers in your home are the TV streams and big downloads. If you’re unsure, you can ballpark how much you stream, browse, game and download throughout the day and multiply it by 30 days for a rough estimate of monthly usage.

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How can I save on data use?

If you find yourself regularly exceeding your data cap, or constantly experiencing excess data slowdowns, there are some easy things to do if you need to rein in that data use.

  • Turn off ‘auto-play’ videos: Facebook can be great for cat videos, but often they are auto-play, which means simply scrolling past can burn through precious megabytes. These megabytes can add up to gigabytes over the course of a month if you’re a heavy Facebook user. You can turn this off in your ‘Videos and Photos’ settings tab.
  • Check Netflix, Stan & Foxtel streaming quality: These services can burn through upwards of 7GB an hour on a 4K stream, which can make short work of a 100GB data plan. Luckily, you can select the playback quality in your settings, and reduce it to Standard Definition. SD can use as little as around 300mb per hour.
  • Adjust YouTube quality: It’s tempting to see your favourite YouTube channel in glorious HD, but if you’re just looking up a quick video, consider using 480p or thereabouts. For a small computer screen, it will likely look passable and could save precious data over the long run.
  • Reconsider lossless audio: Lossless audio is great for audiophiles but not so great for data conservation. Apps such as Tidal feature lossless audio, but if on a data budget, choosing 320kbps or 256kbps could save in the long run. Lossless audio is likely lost on many average headphones, anyway.
  • Download movies in SD rather than HD: Doing this can save a gigabyte or more per movie. On smaller screens, SD or ‘DVD quality’ likely won’t be much less of a quality compromise.
  • Reconsider that big game download: Online gaming doesn’t use much data at all, but the in-game downloads can chew through massive amounts. Consider doing them in off-peak periods where your data cap may be higher or consider if you need the download at all; often, the downloads are only necessary to access certain parts of the game. A 15GB download could make light work out of a 100GB data cap.

Overall, to conserve data there’s a common theme, and it’s usually to do with streaming video. Selecting the ‘lesser’ option may seem unsavoury to our HD-adjusted eyes. However, for most applications, DVD quality likely won’t be noticed by your partner and the in-laws you are trying to keep entertained.

How can I monitor my data?

If you’re uneasy about the amount of data you are using, there are a few methods to monitor data.

  • If on a data-capped plan, your provider may include how much data you used the previous month on your bill. Of course, this may not be ideal if you want your usage in real-time.
  • You can use your online user portal – usually by entering 192.168.1.1-XXXX – for a real-time look about how much data you are using.
  • Your provider may also provide warnings if you reach half, three-quarters and your full data capacity. These alerts, however, may be delayed by upwards of two hours.
  • Using your online login on the provider’s website may also feature how much data you are using, but again this could be delayed.

If there are no avenues to track data use, however, it may be prudent to be honest about the activities you do on the web and estimate data use from there. For example, two hours of HD Netflix per day can use upwards of 6GB; add in some general browsing, YouTube and a file download, and you could use upwards of 100GB per household member per month.

What happens if I exceed my data?

The good news is that these days most service providers do not have excess data charges. Instead, your speed is slowed to about 256kbps – enough to use email and some light browsing. Some other providers may offer data packs to add on, usually in 10GB blocks.

Measuring Your Data: Bits and Bytes

The difference between a bit and a byte is more than just apples and oranges. If you’re confused about the difference between a ‘megabit’ and a ‘megabyte’, the differences are:

  • Megabyte/Gigabyte: Is a measure of file size – ‘mb’ and ‘GB’ respectively. Each increment is 1000-times larger than the previous. A gigabyte contains 1000mb (or technically 1024mb) and so on.
  • Megabit/Mbps: Is more a measure of speed. There are eight ‘bits’ in a ‘byte’. So, if you have a 100mbps download speed, you can download 12.5mb of data per second, which means a movie that’s 1GB will take as little as 80 seconds to download – pretty quick!

It’s important to note that the speed of your internet plan has little bearing on the amount of data you use. However, with a faster internet plan you are likely to stream more, download more and enjoy the internet more, so your data use may increase!

What’s the bottom line on data use?

If you’re constantly experiencing a slowdown because you’ve exceeded your data, it could be time to reconsider your broadband plan. If you’re a household full of streamers, gamers and browsers, an unlimited data plan may provide peace of mind. Plus, they are so plentiful these days and there is a lot of competition.

  • Streaming is a major data killer in the average household, using upwards of 7GB an hour.
  • Despite what critics may have you believe, online gaming uses relatively little, but the in-game downloads can consume a lot.

With today’s data use, there is a common theme of videos and multimedia chewing through data. The next time you’re browsing, have a think about how much data that cat video uses.

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