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Broadband usage: how much data do I need?

These days, most of us tend to have lots of devices in our homes that all connect to the internet. As well as computers, smartphones and games consoles. If you think about it, that’s an awful lot of data being sent and received from a typical home broadband connection.

All the deals listed on Broadband Genie are unlimited, so you won't have to pay more for any of these common online tasks. But if you're using a mobile broadband dongle, or relying on tethering your phone, this could pose a problem if you have a strict monthly usage cap.

So how do you know how much data you need without paying too much, or leaving you stuck? Let's explore!

Broadband data usage: the key points

  • The average fixed-line broadband connection uses 482GB of data each month.
  • How much data you use will depend on how you use the internet, and how often.
  • The biggest impact comes from video streaming and large file downloads.
  • Unlimited broadband is the best choice for most people as it means you never have to worry about data limits.

How much internet data do you need?

To work this out, you can think about how much you might use in a typical month. Tot up your usage with this handy list of common activities. Just bear in mind that these are rough estimates.

  • 1 hour of instant messaging: 0.25-1MB
  • 100 web pages: 300MB
  • Download 100 emails: 1-10MB
  • 1 hour Skype call: 225MB
  • 1 hour Skype video call: 350MB
  • Download 1 photo: 0.05-2MB
  • Download 3 minute MP3 audio file: 3-8MB
  • Download 1 film trailer (720p): 50-100MB
  • 1 software/game download: 5MB-50GB
  • Download 1 film: 700MB-8GB
  • Streaming 1 hour of video (standard definition): 150-350MB
  • Streaming 1 hour of video (high definition): 1-2GB
  • Streaming 1 hour of music streaming (160Kbps bitrate): 70MB

To work out a rough data usage requirement, estimate how much time you spend on common activities in a month. For example:

  • 8 hours of SD video streaming (350Mb): 2.8GB
  • 12 hours of music streaming: 840MB
  • Download one HD movie: 8GB
  • Two hours Skype calling: 450MB
  • Total data used = 12.09GB

Keep in mind that the more devices and users you have sharing the broadband, the greater the demand on your service. If you live alone but have a home full of gadgets, the data requirements could be high. Or perhaps you have flatmates, a partner, or family members who put the broadband through its paces with lots of downloading and video streaming.

Remember that anything connected to your broadband (wired or wireless) will consume data, so each smartphone, tablet, or games console will need to be accounted for.

Online backup services such as Dropbox can use a large amount of data, so if you store files online, you’ll need to take this into consideration.

It’s also becoming more common to leave computers on for long periods of time. This could be for remote access, serving files, or using apps like Spotify whilst doing other things, and this again can contribute to a large amount of data usage.

If you do anything else a little out of the ordinary, such as hosting online games or running your own media server, then your usage could be higher than some.

Need a little help understanding these file sizes? Head over to our 'quick guide to bits and bytes'.

How much data does TV streaming use?

TV streaming can use a large amount of data in a short period of time. Now that streaming is so popular, it’s a likely culprit if you ever run into problems with a data limit.

To give you an idea of the impact it can have, the table below shows the estimated data use of several major video streaming services.

Where possible, we got this data from the services themselves, but this information isn't always available so, unofficial sources have been used when necessary.

These are only rough estimates, and your actual usage will vary depending on video quality and the device used to view a stream. Many services automatically adjust video quality to accommodate different devices and broadband speeds. That said, you can still change the video quality yourself. With that in mind, it's best to check if you’re trying to work out what you spend, then change it back to standard if needs be.

How much mobile data does Amazon Prime Video use?

  • Low quality: 0.38GB per hour
  • Medium quality: 1.4GB per hour
  • High quality: 6.84GB per hour

How much mobile data does BBC iPlayer use?

  • Up to 700MB per hour.

How much mobile data does Netflix use?

  • Automatic: approximately 4GB per hour
  • 'Save Data' mode: approximately 6 hours per GB of data
  • Maximum Data: approximately 3GB per hour

Do I need unlimited broadband?

If you have a choice, we highly recommend you choose an unlimited data plan, regardless of how little you may think you’ll use the internet.

Unlimited data removes all the worry of monitoring your data consumption and means you’ll never face additional charges or restrictions. If you suddenly have guests, or need the internet more than usual for one particular month, you’re not going to have a random big bill.

Unlimited broadband is usually cheap and is readily available, in fact, you’ll very rarely find a data-limited package listed here on Broadband Genie. Capped broadband packages are still available and in some cases may be the preferred, or only, option.

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Frequently asked questions about internet data

  • How much Wi-Fi data does the average person use a month?

    The average home uses around 482GB of data per month. But the more people in your household, the higher this number is going to be.

    That said, it really does depend on what you use the internet for. A household where people stream TV daily is going to use more data than one where the internet is only really used for web browsing.

    When you’re looking for a new broadband deal, you should always look at the typical usage in your household, not at the average.

  • How much data is used when streaming live TV?

    Live streams will use a similar amount of data as any other streaming video. So on iPlayer, for example, the numbers listed above will apply to both live streams and catch-up viewing.

  • What’s the best internet provider for streaming?

    The best provider for streaming is the one that can provide you with a connection that’s fast enough, and ideally with an unlimited deal! If you’re not sure what speed you need, our guide to choosing the right broadband speed can set you on the right path.

  • How can I use less data?

    If you’re worried about your data, then you can try using less. There are apps and plugins out there that you can use to cut your internet access if you need them. But the best way will just be to take note of what you’re using the internet for and for how long. Choose to switch things off when you know you don’t need them.

    However, if you do need the internet but are close to the end of your data for the month, there are other things that you can try.

    You’ll likely also have data on your mobile plan. This will very likely be capped, so check how much data you have available for you. But if need be, you can use your phone as a mobile hotspot. Provided you don’t try doing anything too data-intensive, most mobile networks will allow you to do this and you can switch to mobile internet to stay in your cap.

    That said, we don’t recommend doing this too often as it could wind up costing you.

  • How can I find out how much data I’m using?

    If your broadband service has a data usage limit, then your internet service provider should have a way for you to monitor usage. This feature is usually found in your online account options on the provider’s website.

    You can also monitor data yourself using your Wi-Fi router or a software application; to find out more, we have a guide to monitoring data usage that explains this in detail.

  • What happens if I use too much data?

    If you have a data-limited package, there will be penalties for exceeding your monthly data cap. This varies, but in general, most providers will add a charge. This is usually a fee for each gigabyte of data used over the limit, or a reduction in the speed of your connection until the end of the month or the next billing period.

    Some providers may also insist that you move to a different (and more expensive) package if you repeatedly use too much data.

  • How do I get unlimited broadband?

    Getting unlimited broadband is easy! Enter your postcode into our postcode checker below, and see what offers are available in your area.

    Almost all of our deals have an unlimited monthly data allowance, but on the rare occasion, we do have a data-limited package it will be clearly marked.

  • Which providers offer unlimited broadband?

    All providers listed on Broadband Genie offer unlimited broadband. That includes popular internet service providers or ISPs such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk, and Virgin Media.

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Expert Summary

The average home now uses almost 500GB of data each month. But this is something that can vary quite a bit. If you want to know how much you’re using, you can add up everything you use the internet for in a month to see how much data your household is actually using. Alternatively, there are ways you can monitor data usage to get an accurate estimation.

If you have a capped package, and you’re running low on data, there are things you can do. If you have a decent amount of data available for you on your mobile contract, you can use your phone as a hotspot for a bit instead.

We’ll always recommend unlimited broadband. Even if you don’t think you’ll use the internet much, this will cover you for any eventuality. Most mobile broadband providers offer unlimited broadband these days without it costing much more.

Meet the author:


Matt has been working with Broadband Genie since 2009. A lifelong tech enthusiast, he has 20 years of experience writing about technology for print and online.

Specialist subject: The technicalities of broadband

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