How much data do I really need?

12 October 2017

Broadband usage guide

When you’re shopping for an internet plan, the amount of data you need each month plays a major role in picking the right option for your household.

Nowadays, many families are turning to unlimited data internet plans to make sure the internet is "always on", just like electricity and running water. Of course, there is money to be saved if you calculate your usage and find the right plan. 

Depending on the provider, you can save as much as $20 per month (if not more) if you take out a cheaper alternative over an unlimited data plan. 

Data usage for popular online activities

Below we've got a quick overview of what kind of internet plans are best for popular online activities. These recommendations are based on using just one of these apps or services, so if you're using more than one regularly, consider opting for a larger allowance. 

50GB 100GB 500GB Unlimited Data
Web Surfing
Music Streaming
Online Gaming
Streaming TV
Downloading Movies & TV
Downloading Video Games
View plans View plans View plans View plans
= Good to go
= Caution
= Need more data

Working out how much data you use each month

The easiest way to figure out how much data you need is to look at old internet bills; these tend to include your monthly usage. If you don't receive paper copies, you'll almost certainly be able to find out your usage by logging on to the user portal on your internet service provider's website. 

If you can't find this, we done the math and worked out how much data common online activities will burn through. 

Add up the data for the different services and apps you use each month.

Chrome app icon

How much data do you need for web browsing? 

Approximately 7GB per month

Census data suggests the average Australian browses the web for around 48 hours per month. An average web page is about 2.5MB in size, which works out to be 7GB around per person, per month. 

Facebook app icon

How much data does Facebook use? 

Approximately 2.5GB per month

Given how image heavy Facebook is these days, you'll use slightly more data than you would on most websites. 

You can expect to use around 2MB per minute, although this can grow if you're watching lots of video. Facebook's video streams do however tend to use less data than YouTube or Netflix. 

The average Facebook user spends about 20 hours on the website per month, which means you'll need about 2.5GB of data for each Facebook user in your household. A little more if they're addicts. 

If you're hoping to cut down on your Facebook data usage, make you can set videos to "never auto-play" under "Videos and Photos" in the settings menu.

Netflix app icon

How much data does Netflix use?

From 300MB per hour 

Netflix has three quality settings for when you're streaming in your web browser, on your smart TV, or on your game console. 

  • Low: 300MB per hour
  • Medium: 700MB per hour
  • High: 3GB per hour for HD, 7GB per hour for 4K

If you haven't adjusted these, there's a good chance that quality is set to "auto", which means you're streaming in the highest quality possible on your current internet connection and device. 

If you're streaming on high (or auto), watching a season of your favourite show on Netflix (13 episodes) could use as much as 39GB.

Stan app icon

How much data does Stan use?

From 570MB per hour 

Stan has four quality settings for when you're streaming in your web browser, on your smart TV, on your game console. 

  • Low (SD): 570MB per hour
  • Medium (SD): 1.13GB per hour
  • High (HD): 2.89GB per hour 
  • Ultra (4K): 7GB per hour 

Ultra is currently only available on select smart TVs and consoles, and only for select programming, so most users will see "high" as the best available option. 

Watching a season of your favourite show on Stan (13 episodes) on high will use about 37GB.

Foxtel Now app icon

How much data does Foxtel Now use?

From 1.4GB per hour

If you're on a compatible console, set-top box, web browser, or Chromecast, Foxtel Now will use as much as 1.4GB per hour for standard definition video, and as much as 3.2GB per hour for high definition video.

Streaming an entire season of Game of Thrones (10 episodes) in high definition would use about 30GB. 

iTunes app icon

How much data do you need to rent movies & TV shows?

From 1.5GB per movie

Renting or buying a movie or TV show from a service like iTunes or Google Play can result in drastically different data usage depending on what you're watching and in what quality. 

For example, an average SD quality movie on iTunes will be about 1.5GB, while a HD quality movie will be about 4GB in 1080p. But if you wanted to watch one of the Lord of the Rings extended editions, this jumps to 3.6GB in SD and 7.5GB in 720p and 8.2GB in 1080p. Thankfully, iTunes makes file-size information available underneath each movie and TV show on the iTunes store. 

Google doesn't do the same on the Play Store, but we've found you can tend to expect similar data usage to iTunes. 

If you wanted to rent four HD movies a month through iTunes or Google Play, you'd be looking at a minimum of 16GB of data per month. 

YouTube app icon

How much data does YouTube use?

From 100MB per hour

YouTube's data usage will vary depending on the quality you're watching. A low quality video will use around 1.6MB per minute, but a Full HD (1080p) video will use as much as 12MB per minute. 

Some YouTube videos offer higher qualities such as 1440p and 2160p (4K), which will further increase the amount of data you use.  

YouTube Usage 240p 360p 480p 720p 1080p
Per min. 1.6MB 2.66MB 4MB 7.4MB 12.4MB
Per hour 100MB 160MB 240MB 450MB 750MB

Spotify app icon

How much data does music streaming use?

Approximately 150MB per hour

Music streaming data usage will depend on the service that you're subscribed to. However, in most cases, you'll never use more than 144MB, which is when you're streaming music at 320kps (roughly 12MB a song).

If you're using the free tier of Spotify on your computer, you'll only stream at 160kbps, which is roughly equal to 72MB per hour - half the quality (but also half the data usage) you get as a paying subscriber. 

Apple Music only streams at a single quality - 256kps - which is equivalent to 155MB an hour.

Google Play Music tries to stream at 320kbps, but adjusts depending on the strength of your connection. 

If you've got a subscription to a lossless music streaming service like Tidal, expect to use around 640MB per hour.

Hearthstone app icon

How much data do you need for gaming?

As much as 60GB per game download

Actually playing games online doesn't necessarily use much data. In most cases, you're looking at about 50MB per hour, but some can require a lot more. 

That being said, downloading and updating games is a lot more taxing on your data allowance. If you're gaming on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or PC, new release big budget titles are now clocking in at over 60GB in size. Games tend to be smaller on the Nintendo Switch. 

Post-release updates aren't insignificant either, with many clocking in over at a gigabyte. 

The good news is, if you're buying a game online, your digital storefront of choice will almost certainly tell you how big the download is ahead of time.

Skype app icon

How much data does Skype use?

Approximately 25MB per hour for video 

Skype really doesn't use much data at all. A video call uses about 360KB per minute, which is about 25MB per hour. Voice-only calls use even less.

You'd need to make 50 hours of video calls over Skype to even use 1GB in a month. 

Settings app icon

Bits & bytes

To make things super confusing, Data Downloads and Data Speeds are calculated using two different measurements. Keep an eye on which letters are capitalised.

  • MB: Downloads are measured in bytes: Megabytes (MB), Gigabytes (GB), etc. Each increment is 1000x larger than the one before it. So if you download a 500MB file, you are using 0.5GB of your monthly data allowance.
  • Mbps: Speed is measured in Megabits per second. There are 8 bits in a byte. Therefore, if you connection speed is 100Mbps, you can download 12.5MB of data per second. If a movie you download is 1GB in size, it will take 80 seconds to download at this speed.

If you want to keep track of your usage when downloading, the speed of your connection has no bearing on how much data you are using. The important information is the size of the file being downloaded. This is what will affect your cap.

What happens if I go over? 

Fortunately, going over your monthly download limit isn't as big a deal as it once was. 

For fixed line internet connections, your speed is throttled when you reach your data limit. This means that the download speed slowed down until the end of your monthly billing cycle. It then returns to its normal speed at the start of the next month.

The throttled speed is about the speed of an old dial-up internet connection (if you remember that). You can check your email, and browse some websites, but that's about it.

If you want more information about how the major providers penalise excess usage, read our guide here.

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