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What eats up your data on your phone?

In today’s digital world, mobile data usage is increasing rapidly. With the rise of streaming, social media, and other data-heavy services, it’s easy to burn through your monthly data allowance without even realizing it. Understanding what activities use the most data can help you modify your behavior to stay within your plan and avoid costly overage charges.

Video and Audio Streaming

Streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, and Pandora are some of the biggest data hogs. Streaming video at standard definition can use up to 500MB per hour, while HD streaming can use up to 2GB per hour. Streaming high fidelity audio also consumes more data than streaming low quality audio. Downloading media for offline playback uses less data than streaming, but the files themselves can be very large.

Tips for reducing streaming data usage:

  • Use WiFi whenever possible instead of mobile data
  • Set the streaming quality to standard definition instead of HD
  • Download content to watch offline when you know you’ll be without WiFi
  • Disable auto-play of videos

Social Media

Browsing social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok can use up a lot of data, especially if auto-playing videos is enabled. Just having the apps open and running in the background can eat up data as they sync new content. Social media apps use about 250-500MB per hour depending on usage.

Tips for reducing social media data usage:

  • Disable auto-play on videos
  • Use WiFi whenever possible
  • Disable background app refresh
  • Download posts for offline viewing before disabling mobile data

Web Browsing and Email

Simply browsing the web and checking email can use a lot of data if you visit media-heavy sites and have images set to automatically load. Web browsing uses about 50-100MB per hour, while email with image auto-load uses about 10MB per hour. Web and email data usage really adds up over time.

Tips for reducing web browsing and email data usage:

  • Use WiFi whenever possible
  • Disable images from automatically loading in emails and web pages
  • Use lite versions of websites that have less images/media
  • Download web pages for offline viewing before disabling mobile data

Online Gaming

Online mobile games with frequent data syncs can use up to 100MB per hour. Games with multiplayer interactions tend to use the most data. Large file size games also use data when downloading and installing. Downloading console-quality games on a mobile device can use GBs of data.

Tips for reducing online gaming data usage:

  • Use WiFi whenever possible
  • Disable background data for gaming apps
  • Avoid large file size games using cellular data
  • Disable multiplayer and only play single player offline modes to avoid syncing data

Cloud Storage and File Syncing

Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud and OneDrive continuously sync files in the background and use up data. Uploading and downloading files from the cloud uses data similar to web browsing. Leaving auto-upload of photos and videos on can also consume data.

Tips for reducing cloud storage data usage:

  • Disable background syncing and only manually sync on WiFi
  • Disable auto-upload of photos and videos over mobile data
  • Download files for offline access instead of streaming from the cloud

OS and App Updates

Updating your mobile OS, apps, maps and other software can use up a massive amount of data depending on update size. OS updates like iOS and Android can be multiple GBs. Even smaller app updates add up over time. Automating updates is convenient but can eat through data.

Tips for reducing data usage from updates:

  • Turn off auto-update and only manually update on WiFi
  • Avoid updating large apps and games using mobile data
  • Update your OS using WiFi only

Hotspots and Tethering

Turning your phone into a WiFi hotspot to connect other devices like laptops and tablets uses a lot of data. Connected devices will use your phone’s data plan for all their activity. Just a few hours of web browsing or streaming can consume GBs of hotspot data.

Tips for reducing hotspot data usage:

  • Avoid using your phone as a hotspot on a regular basis
  • When using hotspot, ask connected devices to disable background syncing and auto-updates
  • Set a usage limit or cutoff when using your phone as a hotspot to avoid overages

Large File Downloads

Downloading large files like high definition videos, high resolution photos, and app installers can eat up huge amounts of mobile data very quickly. A single 4GB HD video could use nearly half of your monthly allowance.

Tips for reducing large download data usage:

  • Always use WiFi for large downloads instead of mobile data
  • Disable auto-download of attachments in email and messaging apps

Unoptimized Content

Poorly compressed images, videos and audio files use much more data than optimized formats. Uncached content also repeatedly eats up data each time you access it. Apps and sites that don’t employ data optimization techniques can be inefficient.

Tips for reducing unoptimized content data usage:

  • Use apps and services that optimize data usage
  • Enable data savings mode in your mobile browser to compress images and video
  • Reduce quality level of images and audio to use less data

Location Services

Constant access to GPS and location data in the background can use extra data if you use many apps with geolocation features enabled. Navigation and mapping apps use more data the more they are actively being used.

Tips for reducing location services data usage:

  • Disable background location access for apps that don’t need it
  • Only enable high-accuracy location mode when needed
  • Limit use of live navigation and mapping to times on WiFi

VoIP Calling and Video Chat

Making calls and video chatting over the internet uses data similar to streaming video and music. Just a few hours of high-quality VoIP calls or video conferencing can use GBs of data.

Tips for reducing VoIP and video chat data usage:

  • Use WiFi whenever possible
  • Enable low bandwidth mode to limit call quality
  • Disable HD video calling and use lower quality


Many apps and webpages load advertisements that use data. Video ads use particularly high amounts of data. Ads not only eat up your data allowance, but also slow down loading and browsing.

Tips for reducing advertisement data usage:

  • Use an ad blocker browser and apps to reduce ad data
  • Avoid apps with excessive ads if possible
  • Disable video ad playback

Unnecessary Connectivity

Some apps maintain constant data connections or sync intervals in the background when not required. Push notifications, frequent syncing, and background refreshing use data even when you aren’t actively using your phone.

Tips for reducing unnecessary connectivity data usage:

  • Force close apps when not in use
  • Disable background app refresh
  • Turn off push notifications for unnecessary apps
  • Set sync intervals to longer periods


In summary, streaming media, web browsing, social media, gaming, file transfers, and unrestrained background activity are some of the biggest data consuming culprits. Employing a combination of limiting these activities and enabling data saving features can help you tame your data usage. Getting in the habit of using WiFi whenever available instead of mobile data is one of the most effective overall ways to reduce consumption.

Carefully monitoring your usage, setting limits, and optimizing your settings takes some time and effort but pays off by avoiding costly overages. Don’t get caught off guard by runaway data usage and take control of your mobile data diet.