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About mobile data usage

A woman sitting down and checking her mobile phone

Whether you are using a phone or a tablet, if you’re on the internet, you are using something called data. We use data when we browse the web, watch a video, check our emails or on a social networking site.

WebWise Team | 29th August 2013

Data is the information you are either sending or receiving when you’re online. We use data to browse the web, watch a video, or check our emails.

How much data am I using?

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What's the difference between 3G and 4G?

The 4G mobile broadband connection aims to provide similar speeds to the broadband supplied to people's homes. This has been made available gradually across the UK, initially to major cities, with each mobile provider having its own plan on when and where 4G will be available.

To use 4G you will need to have the right kind of smartphone handset and be in the right part of the UK. Only newer phones will have this but check the suppliers manual or website to see if your phone has this capability - you may also see the feature described as "4G LTE" (Long Term Evolution).

With a 4G connection large files, such as video and audio, may download much faster than with 3G. When you sign up for a tariff with a provider make sure you're covered for the amount of data you realistically need.

3G or Wi-Fi, what's best?

If you are using WiFi there isn’t usually a limit to how much data you use. But if you have a 3G contract it’s a bit like calls and texts allowance on your phone. Every time you do something online it eats into your data allowance and you can quickly use up your credit.

All the big network providers offer a range of tariffs with a choice of data limits and the right one for you depends on what you want to do online.

What you typically get for 500MB (average monthly data allowance)
Download 100 songs OR
Download 80 apps OR
Watch one hour of online video OR
Listen to 80 hours of online radio OR
View 5,000 basic web pages OR
Send 1,000 emails with attachments (photos, documents etc) OR
View 1,500 multi-media web pages (with images, videos, interactivity or games)

Be aware that your phone may be consuming data even when you’re not using it. For example, your email application may automatically check for new messages unless you instruct it not to do so.

Getting the right mobile package

It’s important you sign up for a package that provides enough data for what you want to do and always go for a little bit more. This package is called a data bundle. There are ways you can track how much data you’re using. Just talk to the company who sold you the contract and they can tell you how to check.

For help finding a package that matches your needs and give you the best value for money by checking the Billmonitor website (Ofcom accredited) - see the 'Elsewhere on the web' box on the right.

The mobile internet abroad

Most data packages only allow for internet usage in the UK. If you’re going abroad, unless you have a roaming data plan, it’s safest to switch it off. You’ll still be able to make calls and send texts. Use Wi-Fi whenever possible!

If you do not limit your phone usage while abroad, you could be looking at a hugely expensive mobile phone bill when you return home. To prevent this happening, the European Union recently introduced a £41 data usage cap for anyone using roaming services overseas. This cap only applies when you are travelling within the EU.


The WebWise 'W'

WebWise Team

WebWise was first launched in 1998 and since then has helped people of all ages to learn about and love the internet.