Since we’re a pay-for-what-you-use internet company, a question we get all the time is: “How the heck do I know how much data I’m using?” The short answer is, “It’s complicated.” That’s because data use is never really one-size-fits-all. For example, if you’re trying to find out how much data you’re using by streaming music, it will depend on which app you’re using, what quality the stream is set to, and how long you listen (it doesn't matter what you listen to, so get down with your Boy George on repeat).
To help make things less complicated, we’ll go through a few commonly-used apps to give you an idea of how much data they eat up (we covered the very popular Netflix, YouTube, and Spotify in an earlier blog post).
Voice and Messaging Apps
WhatsApp is a fan favorite.
What’s App is a messaging app to replace texting on just about any device. It uses data or WiFi to transmit messages, meaning you don’t need a phone plan to text, and makes it ideal for our airplane-mode challenge. The app uses about 1kB per text message and 50kB per picture message, so a little bit of data will go a long way.
Similar data usage applies to iMessage as well, but, of course, iMessage only works between Apple devices.
Skype is an old stand-by for video and voice calling. You’ll use about 375kB per minute of Skype-to-Skype voice calling, so about 22MB per hour of chatting. For video, you’re looking at around 3.75MB per minute between two mobile devices, or 225MB per hour.
Google Voice can provide you with a phone number so you can receive regular calls on your phone without a cellular plan. Voice calling with Google is also relatively data-light, using around 30MB each hour.
We’ve talked a bit about streaming apps in our first post about how much data your apps use. At this point, around half of internet traffic is video, which is a bit mind-blowing. But streaming video also sits at the top of the pyramid in the hierarchy of data, so when you’re using pay-as-you-go internet, you’ll have to be a little mindful of how much data you use when you stream.
Just like favorites Spotify and Pandora, iTunes Radio lets you listen to music, but you can also listen to other streaming content like NPR and ESPN. It will use about 70MB per hour of listening.
We're a podcast-loving bunch
They've have been around for years, but recently, the world's obsession with Serial has brought Podcasts out into the world of more mainstream (no pun intended) entertainment. You can stream a podcast while you listen, or you can download it and listen to it when you’re offline, which is usually the more efficient option if you plan ahead. An episode of Serial, or any other hour-long podcast, will run around 55MB.
Meerkat & Periscope
We talked about new-fangled video streaming apps Meerkat & Periscope in a recent post. We did not talk about how much data they eat up. These apps are obviously still pretty new, but tests seem to indicate they’ll use 250-400MB per hour, so livestreaming the entirety of Coachella might not be the best idea. Sorry.
Yeah, we 'Gram
The world has adopted a new motto: When in doubt, Instagram it. To upload photos, you can post about four pics per MB, so you can afford to live-gram your next trip to the dentist if you’re so inclined (please don't). Videos will run about 1.5-2.5 MB each, depending on how long the video is.
An important note: Instagram now allows you to pre-load videos in your feed, which makes them play right away as you scroll, but this will use up more data than loading those videos in-feed. You can set the app so it only pre-loads videos on WiFi mode, but this will still use up Karma data if you’re using Karma WiFi. Instagram will show you how to turn off this feature completely here.
The hugely popular image messaging app will cost you about 30-50KB per image, meaning you can send hundreds of snaps with just a few MB of data. However, be careful when you get into video usage, particularly Snapchat’s new Discover feature. There are no exact published numbers online of how much data Discover uses, but lots of users have reported that it can chow down on data pretty fast.
Google Maps users actually report that it uses surprisingly little data, about 1MB per 10 miles of travel, which gives you a great excuse to take a road trip (without the guilt trip).
We get lots of questions from small business owners about using Karma with Square to power their point of sale. Great news here: each Square transaction typically uses less than 10KB. That amount will still be less than 50KB if your customer provides a signature. That means you can perform thousands of transactions on a single GB of data. Cha-ching.
Hopefully this clears up some of your questions about data consumption. Of course, as the types of media and technology we use change and get more complicated (or, in some cases, simplify), these numbers will change, too. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if there are more apps and use cases you’d like to know about.