Blog Post

How Much 3G Data Is Your Smartphone Using?

I don’t often look at my cellular phone bills, but I happened to glance at the latest one from T-Mobile. My first full monthly billing cycle didn’t show anything out of the ordinary, but the monthly data usage happened to catch my eye. I thought I chewed up more than 437 MB of mobile broadband, but I’m sure that T-Mobile keeps accurate records. After thinking over my usage patterns, I recalled the recent post James wrote in which he asked about Wi-Fi usage on smartphones. That’s when I realized my Wi-Fi pattern at the home office greatly impacted my overall smartphone 3G usage. But to really see how much of an impact there is, I’ve turned off the Wi-Fi radio on my Nexus One (s goog) and I’m leaving it off for the remainder of my current billing cycle, which is about three weeks.

I’m mainly curious what life would be like without Wi-Fi, as well as what the impact to the phone’s battery and the overall experience would be. Obviously, there are wireless hotspots all over the place and I’m not recommending that anyone walk down this path with me. Besides, there’s plenty of evidence that shows how smartphones are fueling the demand for Wi-Fi. This isn’t an attempt to buck the tide, I’m just experimenting.

[polldaddy poll=2787486]

I’ve already seen one impact — the battery on my Nexus One is draining faster, although I did order a spare battery today — they’re now available direct from Google for $25 each. Having a second battery for devices is a common practice for me and not related to my 3G lifestyle. But when home, my Wi-Fi radio is active and I can stretch my phone usage through a full day, even though it’s my most used device when I’m not in front of a computer. But over the past few days while using 3G-only, I’m making it to around dinnertime with the device. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, but again, it’s nice to see some measurable indication of the drain. I’m not concerned about hitting any 3G bandwidth cap — the base data plans for smartphones in the U.S. are generally unlimited at this point. It’s the data plans for larger devices like netbooks and notebooks that come with the 5 GB monthly cap. With a larger display and a less-limiting operating system, these computers are likely to eat through more mobile broadband over the course of a month.

Again, I’m not advocating anyone else wean their smartphones off of Wi-Fi. Why wouldn’t you use a free or low-cost alternative to 3G that’s often faster? But I am curious if you’ve looked at your own 3G usage. How much 3G bandwidth did your smartphone consume last month or during your last billing cycle? Is it more, less or about what you expected? I’ve broken the smaller amounts down into chunks because I suspect very few folks are actually using more than 1 GB of 3G data on their smartphones. Unless they tether for modem use, of course. ;)

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41 Responses to “How Much 3G Data Is Your Smartphone Using?”

      • JoeThePlum

        No, I wasn’t tethering. I listen to streaming radio & podcasts on my phone 9-12hrs a day. I used 21GB two months ago, so I was a little surprised when I saw 40gb on last month’s bill.

  1. Today is the last day in my cycle and I’ve used just about 10GB of data via 3G on my iPhone. I do not use my phone for tethering (AT&T prohibits this anyway). The other person on my plan has used 13.3GB of 3G data this month on his iPhone (again, no tethering).

  2. My last full billing cycle was 12/24 – 1/25 with T-mobile. I’ve made a few changes here and there since that have shortened the billing cycles of more recent periods.

    Anyway this was with a G1 and Nexus One: 1,582.8347 MB

    Seems high to me, but I just used it for Google Maps, Gmail, Gtalk, and web surfing. My phone usually connects to my home Wifi automatically as well.

  3. William C Bonner

    I just looked at the last several months on my t-mobile bill.
    Jan: 172.6500, Dec: 205.0873, Nov: 1,450.1609, Oct: 998.4624, Sep: 82.2295.

    I’ve got a T-Mobile Dash3g, and rarely leave the wifi turned on. I tether my laptop to it for internet occasionally, but primarily use wifi with my laptop.

  4. barkleyfan

    Constantly testing new roms on my droid, I’ve definitely stressed my data, and can confirm that VZW’s unlimited data is, in fact, unlimited, so long as you’re not tehtering. Luckily , I never feel the need to tether.

  5. I use at least a GB of data a month on my palm centro. I stream videos, radio, and podcasts frequently and am constantly on my phone for email news ect

  6. Since I’m unfortunately an iPhone user in downtown San Francisco, my smartphone uses no 3G because I have to turn it off if I want to be able to make or receive calls. Thanks a bunch, AT&T.

  7. Yair Amon

    To address this problem developed the “MyCalls” application for Android smartphones.
    This application monitors the monthly usage for voice, sms and data and enables the user to define thresholds in order not to get unexpected overage charges.


    Damn voted wrong ’cause I can’t divide. Looks like I come in around 1.0GB to 1.5GB every month with my Palm Pre. My wife uses about the same. Our two boys add another 100 MB or so. So our family account ranges into the 2.0GB-3.0GB range pretty easy

  9. There is a great app in the market called Data Counter Widget. It not only keeps track off your data usage based on time frames you choose, but it has a widget that will sit on your home page that takes up a 1×2 grid and will show you BOTH WiFi and Cell data usage and will even break it up between data upload and data download usage. I have it on my Nexus One and really like it.

  10. What I do, and probably not available to everyone, is to carry two other devices with me. The first is a Cradlepoint PHS-300 that I then use with my Clear 4G USB modem. That provides my phone with WiFi, and also allows for Skype over the link if I’m worried about minutes. By being seperate I can also put it closer to a window – although so far Clear seems to work fine even in internal rooms as long as the USB modem is vertical.

    The other device is an extended battery that plugs into my iPhone using the normal USB cable. The extended battery goes into my pocket, so I can let it charge for an hour or so, then disconnect the cable so that it’s not even visible (generally one recharge a day is sufficient).

  11. How I calculated that the iPhone uses 640MB of mobile data/month

    I got a question on how I reached the conclusion, that the iPhone uses on average 640MB of mobile data per month on T-mobile NL.

    The T-mobile data I calculated from the combination of two news reports. They seem to have been mentioned by T-mobile in a press release that isn’t publicly available. A press release in december does say that mobile data usage has grown 7-times since last year and is now at 2 terabytes per day.

    My calculation was based on data cited on and and goes as follows:
    Tweakers says that in December 2008 20,5TB per week was used by mobile users, in June this was 3.1TB. In Januari 2008 this was only 2.5TB per week. If we would have seen a “normal” growth rate, then T-mobile’s weekly data usage should have been at 4.5TB maximum. The rest can be attributed to a phenomenon… being the iPhone 3G. reports that there were 100.000 iphone users and also reports they use between 30 to 40 times more data than normal mobile users. They also report that mobile data users Iphone and other use 67TB of data or 3TB per day. (It looks like they mixed up two numbers here, 67TB/30days is 2TB. So it looks like Tweakers is more accurate.

    So roughly mobile data usage is at 82TB/month, 18 is used by non-iphone users –>64TB is for 100,000 iPhone 3G users= 640MB (and 640 is a magical IT number, so I went with that one)

    It’s not perfect, but even if we allow for a 20% margin, it’s still above half a gigabyte.

    • I’d say I have fewer issues although I can’t say why nor when the signal became more stable. I’ve noticed it over the past week — less bouncing between 3G and EDGE while stationary. I haven’t received a firmware update since the last well-publicized one, so I don’t know why the issue has lessened. I’m wondering — any other Nexus One owners on T-Mobile noticing a difference?

  12. tabletenvy

    The latest 3G update for Slingbox looks like it’s going to increase my data usage significantly. I figure ~ 1 GB so far since the update, whereas previously I’d only use roughly 200 MB per month.

  13. Quick question Kevin – how about instead of buying a second battery you get an “extended capacity” battery. Maybe they don’t have them for the N1 (yet), but I know for a fact that the standard 1500mAh battery that comes with the TP2 can be swapped for a 3000mAh and 45000mAh variant. Yes, it makes the device “fatter”, but I’d rather have longer power-on time and save carrying another item. Swapping and charging two batteries every day would drive me up the wall.

    As for bandwidth, I say more is better. US seems to be stuck at 5GB when I’ve seem European providers offer 7GB and 14GB plans. Granted, when you tether you use that up easily, but with uber-fast 4G now approaching I would love to see a truly unlimited plan that cuts all restrictions.

    • Definitely an option, but I’m not a fan of extended capacity batteries that alter the thinness of a handheld device. That’s why I passed on them for my Palm Pre when I had it — instead I bought a battery with 10% more capacity over the standard that was the exact same dimensions.

      As to the” U.S. stuck at 5 GB” thought — I’m not seeing that with smartphone plans from the U.S. carriers — only with mobile broadband solutions for full PCs.

  14. @anorton

    I have been doing this same experiment since there was mention of AT&T doing tiered data pricing for the iPhone. The first month I tried to use as much bandwidth as possible (ie. running pandora over night and watch youtube and other video’s as my battery allowed). I got to about 3.5 GBs. I have been averaging about 1.2 GBs since.

  15. There’s an app for that :-)
    I use NetCounter on my G1 just to monitor the usage. It’s around 1 GB/ month (mainly WiFi since it’s free + faster + lighter on the battery as you also pointed out). I have to admit I do most (as in > 80%) of … everything on it, it’s just a lot more convenient and more fun then having to go 5-10 m to my computer.
    I thought I was a geek and that’s just me but my wife and 2 other coworkers that are nowhere near as computer-inclined as I am are doing it more and more, it’s just so much fun and natural to just take out your phone, do whatever you need to do that very instant and be done with it.

  16. I’m with 3 UK and using a HTC HD2. Last month they say I used 750MB but this month I got a text 6 days in to my billing cycle saying I had used more data than the fair use policy allows which is 1GB!

    I don’t understand how this is as I’ve only been checking emails, facebook and twitter.

  17. Oliver

    I haven’t looked at my bills recently and am too lazy to pull up the website right now. But I recently looked on my iPhone at my accumulated (over the life time of the device) usage of voice and data, and was quite surprised about the relatively small (< 5 GB in over a year) usage. Now, admittedly I use WiFi at home and I rarely stream anything. But if you ask my wife, she’d probably tell you that I am constantly reading something (emails, RSS feeds, NY Times, …). So the tiered pricing might actually be something I’d be interested in as well.

  18. studentrn

    I would really like to see ATT come out with multiple data plans for the Iphone. If I could purchase a 2.5 gb..or maybe even a 1gb plan for half of the unlimited plan..I would jump at it. The only sacrifice I’d have to make to fit the bill is to remember to download any songs or larger apps while I’m on a wifi network. It’s really not all that hard to do.

    • Yup, tiered-usage pricing is something we’re talking about internally at GigaOm as a topic. I’m sure you’re not in the minority on a smaller priced plan with less monthly throughput for the cellular industry as a whole.

      • I’m interested to hear about this. For several years the US carriers have been pushing hard to get at least $60 per month from a subscriber, either $30 voice + $30 data or $60 for data only (capped at 5GB). In that light the iPad data plans at $14.99 for 250MB or $29.99 for unlimited are pretty unusual (with no contract, can you believe it!). It also shows the type of plans and price points that a major carrier can offer and still make a profit. I wonder what kind of blowback this will have in the larger market.

  19. A couple of years ago 5GB of data on a phone would be unheard of.

    But ever since I got my Android device (myTouch 3G) from T-Mobile, I stream internet radio all the time (Slacker, Pandora) and use Google Maps navigation frequently.

    A few times overnight I’d forget to turn the streaming music off. (I know bad guy)

    Nevertheless, I monitored my usage through T-Mobile’s website and low and behold I used 6.2 GB’s of data. That’s right GB’s.

    When I used an EDGE capable device like my BlackBerry 8900 with T-Mobile, I rarely would hit over 100 Megs of PCS data since most of the data I’d use was with WiFi.

  20. jbrandonf

    Pulling about 500 MB a month with my Pre, which is a lot more than I used to with my 3GS when I had it last year (about 200-300 MB) could be that I used to have the battery % in the statusbar and I was more conscious about data usage..whatever the reason I can’t get enough internets on mah Pre.

  21. I am usually in the 300 – 500mb range though I have seen about 1G before. I don’t use wifi that much as I am ususally close to my PC and/or I feel I want to “get what I pay for”!

  22. We live in a rural area where WiFi is almost non existant.
    The local hospital has WiFi but you can’t even read JK mobile because it thinks your site is spam or something.

    Out in the field, it is handy to check email or pull up a website witrhout returning to the office.

    Tethering causes one to really chew up bandwidth.

    We have an “unlimited” plan–as in 5gb per month.
    Don’t go over, as there are OUTRAGEOUS overage fees!

      • Is that a smartphone plan or a 3G device for notebooks?>>

        It’s on the cell phone that you can hook to your computer.
        We can also access the internet on the phone itself too.

        I think the cell companies should just come out and say 5gb plan, not make it sound “Unlimited” when it clearly is not.

  23. Jalapeno

    I have noticed I am usually under 400MB with my Palm Pre. I did have one month when I was traveling that I pulled down 2 gigs, mostly because of youtube videos for my son :)