Mobile data is one of the handiest things to have as a smartphone user. If you’re out and about and need to access the internet quickly, it can be an invaluable resource.

But it’s hard to know exactly how much data you’ll actually need when you sign up for a plan with your mobile provider. What’s more, you may even be using up data without realising it, making you think you need more of it than you actually do.

In this article, we’ll explain how data works and break down how it’s measured so you can get a sense of how much you might need. Then, we’ll suggest some easy ways you can reduce your data usage so you can keep your monthly mobile costs down.

How does mobile data work?

When we talk about mobile data, we’re usually talking about the ability to connect to the internet on our smartphones or tablets using mobile networks, rather than via a WiFi network.

The key difference between data and a WiFi connection is that with data, most of the time, you only have a limited amount you can use every month. This is usually expressed in gigabytes, or GB. A gigabyte is a measurement of digital data storage capacity, and is equivalent to one billion bytes. When you bought your smartphone or SIM card, you likely picked a deal from your mobile provider offering a certain number of GB every month, or one which gives you unlimited data.

If you’re near a WiFi network that your device has connected to before, it will typically use that automatically, so you won’t be burning through data from home. Your phone will normally switch over to data only once you move outside of WiFi range.

Different activities will use up different quantities of your monthly allowance. For example, streaming a video or song can drain your data quite quickly, whereas simply browsing the web or sending and receiving messages doesn’t use much at all. For reference: there are 1000 megabytes (MB) in 1GB, and sending a message only requires about 0.01MB – a pretty miniscule amount, especially if your allowance is multiple GBs.

Making calls and sending texts don’t generally use up your data unless you’re sending pictures or videos – but making a Facetime call will.

Most people don’t need loads of data in their everyday life. It can be handy for accessing information on the fly, but unless you have a job that requires using the internet for long periods of time away from a reliable WiFi network, you probably won’t use more than a few GB every month. Those who really burn through data every month can opt for an unlimited data plan, but these tend to be expensive and far more than most people need.

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How much does mobile data cost?

The exact cost of data will depend on your provider and what kind of packages they offer.

According to comparison website Cable, 1GB of data in the UK costs about £1.06 on average, but remember that when you buy a SIM card for your phone, you’re paying for regular mobile services like calls and texting in addition to data.

If you’re considering switching your mobile phone provider, it’s worth doing plenty of research so you can be certain you’ve found the best possible deal to suit your needs. Comparison websites such as MoneySuperMarket, Uswitch and Compare the Market all enable you to compare the latest phone deals, whether you want the latest smartphone or a SIM-only deal.      

How can I reduce the amount of mobile data I use?

It can be mystifying (and quite annoying) to receive a notification telling you that you’re running low on data – or are fresh out altogether – when you think you haven’t really been using it that month. This can happen when certain apps on your phone use your data passively when you’re out and about. Even if you aren’t using any apps right that second, they might be refreshing in the background and slowly eating up data as they do so. In this way, you might be losing data even when your phone is tucked away in your pocket.

The easiest way to solve this issue is simply to switch off data when you’re not using it. Generally, smartphones will switch to using data automatically when you’re out of range of a known WiFi network, but you have the option to turn it off manually so that your phone is completely disconnected.

On an iPhone or Apple device, you can do this in Settings in the Mobile Data tab. On some Apple devices, you can also do this from the control centre, which you can access by swiping up from the bottom of the screen or down from the top right of the screen (depending on which model you have). The switch for mobile data will be a button next to the option to switch on airplane mode – if it’s green, data is on. Tap it to switch it off, and it should go clear.

On an Android phone, swipe down from the top of the screen, select Settings, then Data Usage and from there you will be able to set Mobile Data to “off”.

If you think you might forget to do this or just find it to be a faff, there are other options as well.

iPhone and other Apple devices

On iPhones and iPads, you can navigate to Settings > General > Background App Refresh. This is what allows apps to use data to refresh in the background, and from here you can choose either to limit it to certain apps or turn it off completely.

Alternatively, you can navigate to the Mobile Data tab in settings and scroll down from there to choose which apps can use data and which ones can’t. This could also be a good chance to delete any apps which you never use, which will free up storage on your phone as well.

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Android devices

On an Android device, you can navigate to Settings > Connections > Data Usage > Data Saver. Turning on the slider for data saver mode (so that it turns from white to blue and white) will stop apps on your device from using data in the background.

If you prefer, you can also turn off background data usage for apps individually. From your Settings, tap on Apps and then tap on the apps you would like to switch it off for. For each app, select Mobile Data and switch off the slider for “Allow background data usage” so that it turns from blue and white to just white. This will prevent these apps from using your data up passively, until you open them up. This could also be a good chance to get rid of any apps that you don’t use, boosting the amount of storage you have available to you.

You can also go to Settings > Connections > Data Usage > Mobile Data Usage and tap the gear icon in the upper right corner of the screen. From here, you can set up notifications to warn you about your data running out, or even set a hard limit on your device’s data use until the next month.


If all else fails, there are apps you can download to keep track of your data usage and warn you when you’re approaching your limit. These include DataMan for Apple devices and My Data Manager for Android Devices.

If you’re keen to find a mobile phone deal which provides you with the right amount of data to suit your needs, check out our guide Everything you need to know about switching mobile phone provider.

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