Why Guides To How Much Phone Data You'll Use Aren't Much Help

Mobile phone companies who want to explain why their rapidly-reducing data allowances are adequate often use shorthand such as "you can download 20 songs" or "you can share 50 photos". These are not actually useful measurements. This is why.

Phone picture from Shutterstock

Here's a recent example of the phenomenon: Optus explaining what you could do with 1GB of data:

  • Send 100 emails with attachments
  • Visit 100 web pages
  • Upload 50 posts or photos to social media
  • Steam 90 mins of videos
  • Stream 90 mins of music
  • Use GPS navigation or 60mins
  • Video call for 30 mins
  • Download 17 apps or games

There are three problems here. Firstly, the whole point of your smartphone is that it can perform multiple tasks at once. Take that 90 minutes of video or music figure. That amounts to just three minutes of video, or one streaming track, a day. But that's assuming you don't do anything else. That list doesn't include several things you'd like your phone to do, such as checking for incoming email. These all add up, and it's hard to predict which tasks you'll perform the most. It's even harder if you're using Wi-Fi whenever possible.

Second, the amount of data involved will vary according to the platform. (Optus qualifies these numbers and says they apply to an iPhone 5.)

Thirdly, what really matters to your bill is not how you chew through data, but how that usage is calculated what happens when you reach your limit. Carriers vary in whether they charge per KB or per MB. Optus' own case is particularly irritating: if you go over your limit, you're automatically charged $10 for an additional 1GB on some plans. That's good if you need a lot more data, but potentially means you've paid a lot more than needed if it's the end of the month and you didn't require that whole chunk again.

If you are concerned about data usage, we've described ways to keep track of it. Bottom line? Your own research is much more useful than generalised figures.


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