What is cell phone data and how is it used?

Have you ever wondered what cell phone data is and how it is used on your phone? This article covers the intricacies of cell phone data and breaks down how it works so you can better utilize your data.

What is mobile data?

Mobile data enables you to connect to the Internet without being on WiFi. You might also hear it referred to as cellular data. While mobile phone usage is measured in minutes, mobile data is measured in megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB). These are metric units, so there’s 1000 MB in 1 GB.

How much data do I have?

You use data whenever you use the Internet on your phone. Depending on your contract details, you may have a lot of data available or even an unlimited amount. Or you may have only a few hundred MB - enough to send lots of texts, quite a few emails, or a short video.

What uses up mobile data usage?

Most of your mobile data goes to one of three places:

Emails, texts, and messages all use data. How much it uses depends largely on what you send and how you are sending it. Large emails full of high-resolution photo attachments take up quite a bit of data, while a short text saying “I’m here” doesn’t take much at all.

Your web browser takes up quite a bit of mobile data. That makes sense since you’re using it to access the Internet, but you might not realize how much data is being used up by various Internet trackers and ads on the websites you visit. Want an easy way to save some data? Switch to Brave, which blocks unwanted ads and third-party trackers. Every tracker not loaded on your browser is a little bit of data saved.

Your favorite apps are likely to be the biggest data users on your phone. Anything that needs to connect to the Internet to update, refresh, or download messages and images will take up data. This means that all of your social media apps, from Facebook to Twitter, Spotify to Netflix, will quietly eat up your data.

If you’re looking to sync your streaming habit with your cell phone plan, you’ll probably want to figure out how much data you need. Streaming Netflix in standard definition uses about 1G of data per hour. If you’re streaming an HD video, you’ll probably use closer to 3G per hour. Note that with Netflix, you can control your data usage directly in your settings.

If you’re streaming music, you won’t use data as quickly, but it does add up over time. Like videos, music can be streamed at different rates; the lower the streaming rate, the lower the quality. It’s a trade-off because a lower streaming rate uses less data. If you use 320 kilobytes per second (kbps), the top quality for most streaming sites, you will end up using around 1G of data in an 8 hour day.

Factors to consider with mobile data


Are you connected to your wifi when you’re at home? Anytime you can connect to the Internet through wifi, you will save mobile data; just be sure you have your wifi settings enabled on your phone. At home, be sure that your wifi signal reaches all corners - you don’t want to find that your phone has switched to mobile data because of a poor wifi connection.

Traveling abroad

Mobile data generally works the same all over the world - assuming there’s coverage, of course - but you’ll probably be charged a lot more for it. To avoid inadvertently racking up huge phone bills for your quick Facebook update, keep your phone on airplane mode or turn off cellular data on your device. Your phone plan may also have deals for mobile data when traveling, but it’s important to verify and sign up before you travel.

How you can save cell phone data

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to save some cell phone data. These range from super-simple to slightly-more-complicated, so find the ones that work for you!

1. Check data usage

First things first - under your Settings app, you will find a complete rundown of all the apps you currently have installed, along with the amount of data they use. You’ll probably find the usual suspects at the top - Facebook, YouTube, etc. - but pay close attention to the ones that may surprise you. Location-based apps, like Google Maps, take a lot of mobile data. Web browsers also take a lot of data, so choose your browser wisely. Brave blocks trackers and unwanted ads - saving a tiny bit of data for every tracker blocked. The bits add up; Brave uses between 30-50% less data than Chrome.

2. Restrict background processes

A lot of apps will quietly run in the background unless you switch them off. This can drain your battery, as well as eat up hordes of data. You may want to consider deleting apps that do this regularly, or you can use some advanced options in Developer Mode on Android to limit the number of background processes that are allowed. You can find some more information on how to access ‘Developer Mode’ here.

3. Switch to better apps

Some apps are absolutely essential for our daily lives. Your mobile browser, for instance, is something you almost certainly use multiple times a day, so choose one that saves data by blocking trackers and unwanted ads. With Shields, Brave protects your browsing privacy and saves your mobile data. Every tracker that isn’t downloaded is mobile data saved; with dozens and hundreds of trackers blocked each time you browse, it’s no wonder that Brave uses between 30-50% less data than Chrome and other major browsers.


It pays to be careful with your data usage. Track how much your apps use, and restrict or delete apps that use too much data. Your web browser is probably a heavy-hitter when it comes to the mobile data it uses each month, so switch to Brave for a safer browser that also saves data.

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