How Much Internet Data Do You Need?

Most people need around 600 GB of data per month for their home internet connection. That gives you enough data to stream movies, play online games, and participate in video conferencing calls.

While many internet providers offer unlimited data, data caps are still common—usually giving you something like 1 TB (1,000 GB) of data per month. That’s plenty for most people. But exceeding your cap leads to overage charges or throttled speeds, costing you time and money.

So here’s a rundown of how to budget your data and get more data if you need it. We also give you recommendations for the best internet plans with unlimited data.

Looking for an internet plan with lots of data? Search your zip code below to see what’s available in your area.

Get unlimited data to avoid going over your data limit

Before we go further, let’s get this point out of the way—the best way to ensure you have all the data you need is to get an internet plan with unlimited data.

Unlimited data means you can use the internet all you want, all month long without consequences (well, from your ISP at least). You can usually get unlimited data from fiber internet providers. Some cable and DSL providers also offer unlimited plans, and those that don’t often have an unlimited option for an extra monthly fee.

Pro tip:

Take a look at the best unlimited-data internet plans for the inside scoop on speeds, pricing, and availability.

Best internet plans with unlimited data

PlanPriceSpeedGet it
Earthlink 1 Gig Internet$99.95/mo.*1,000 MbpsView Plans
Spectrum Internet® Up to 200$49.99/mo. for 12 mos.**Up to 200 Mbps (wireless speeds may vary)View Plans
Google Fiber 1 Gig$70.00/mo.1,000 Mbps
Astound Broadband powered by RCN 50 Mbps Internet$19.99/mo. for the first 12 mos.50 MbpsView Plans
T-Mobile Home Internet$50.00/mo. (with autopay)§35–115 MbpsView Plans

Do you need unlimited data? Honestly, probably not. It’s not necessary for most internet users.

But unlimited data does come in handy if you spend a lot of time doing online activities that use up lots of data, like streaming video and downloading large files.

Unlimited data is also useful for netizens who share Wi-Fi with a lot of roommates or family members. Think of data like food—the more people you have on your Wi-Fi, the more data you consume overall. So you need a larger stockpile of data in your digital pantry to get through each month.

Pro tip:

Take a look at the best unlimited-data internet plans for the inside scoop on speeds, pricing, and availability.

How much data does an average internet user consume per month?

The average internet user consumes 536 GB per month on their home internet plan, according to a recent report from OpenVault.1

The number of internet users who consume more than 500 GB each month is steadily climbing each year. The rise of smart home devices and ubiquity of online streaming fuels a higher demand for data. Internet users with faster speeds at home also use more data on average, according to the OpenVault report.1

Is 1 TB of internet data enough?

For most people, 1 TB of data is enough for a month of internet use. That’s the usual data cap for home internet providers, and it’s a generous amount. It will cover activities like browsing, checking email, and watching a handful of YouTube videos or Netflix movies every day.

However, it’s much easier to use 1 TB of data in 30 days if you have gigabit internet speeds, spend a lot of time doing data-heavy activities, share your Wi-Fi with a lot of other users, or all of the above. Some activities in particular consume a lot of data—especially downloading big files and doing anything related to video in HD or 4K.

These activities use a large amount of data:

  • Streaming video
  • Making video calls
  • Running smart-home security cameras
  • Posting video to social media
  • Downloading games and large files
  • Doing any of these tasks on multiple devices at the same time

 

These activities use a small amount of data:

  • Checking, sending, and receiving email
  • Using social media (without posting video)
  • Browsing the web (with no video)
  • Streaming music or podcasts
  • Shopping online

Is Xfinity’s 1.2 TB of internet data enough?

A data cap of 1.2 TB is definitely enough for most people. That’s how much monthly data Xfinity gives its customers, and it’s better than average as far as data caps go.

However, if you have an Xfinity plan with speeds of 1,000 Mbps or faster, we recommend choosing Xfinity’s Unlimited Data Option for an extra $30 per month. On average, internet users with gigabit speeds use more than 1 TB of data in a month.1 Having unlimited data means you’re less likely to go over your data cap and incur extra charges.

How to figure out how much data you need

Internet activityMinimum recommended data per month
Streaming video in HD300 GB
Making video calls on Zoom60 GB
Running home security cameras30–300 GB (depending on video resolution and frequency of activity captured by the cameras)
Online gaming30 GB
Web browsing and checking email40 GB
Streaming music or podcasts13 GB

To figure out how much data you need, first consult with your provider to see how much data you get on your monthly internet plan. While 1 TB is the standard data cap nowadays, Xfinity is a little more generous by offering a 1.2 TB cap on all of its plans.

However, some low-budget plans will skimp on the data cap. For example, Mediacom’s Access Internet 60 deal comes with just 200 GB per month, which you can easily burn through over a couple weeks of Netflix binge-watching.

Once you’ve figured out your data cap, budget out how much time you spend each week doing what you normally do online. Don’t worry too much about the impact of emails, music streaming, or general browsing (none of which use up very much data). Pay more attention to the number and size of files you download, the amount of time you spend streaming video, and the video resolution on your streaming platforms and Zoom calls.

Life lessons for consuming internet data

Lesson one: Stream video in SD to use less data

ActivityMinimum recommended data per monthHow much time it takes to use 1 GB
Streaming video in SD500 MB per hour2 hours
Streaming video in HD2 GB per hour30 minutes
Streaming video in 4K8 GB per hour7.5 minutes

If you’re worried about your data cap, it’s best to avoid watching video in 4K resolution—it gobbles up a stunning 8 GB per hour. (And can you really tell the difference between 4K and HD, anyway?) Even HD video can take a nasty bite out of your data. Streaming in SD lets you watch a lot more video without putting as big a dent on your data diet.

Lesson two: Every file you download counts towards your data cap

DownloadHow much data it uses
A six-page PDF5.9 MB
An HD movieApprox. 4 GB
A video game or game updateApprox. 20-60 GB

The size of a file you download roughly corresponds to the amount of data you use to download it. You can see how much data a download eats up by looking at how big the file is—the larger the file, the more data.

Lesson three: Watch out for video calls and smart-home cameras

ActivityHow much data it usesHow much time it takes to use 1 GB
Making a video call in SD340 MB per hour3 hours
Making a video call in HD2 GB per hour30 minutes
Running a smart home security camera2 GB per hour30 minutes

High-resolution video calls on apps like Zoom have the potential to make a big dent in your monthly data. You probably don’t need to worry if you make a couple calls a day, but consider switching off the HD setting on your Zoom account if you work from home and regularly sit in on multiple daily meetings.

The same goes for smart home security cameras, which can use up to 2 GB per hour depending on the resolution and other settings.

Lesson four: Don’t sweat the small stuff

ActivityHow much data it usesHow much time it takes to use 1 GB
Online gaming200 MB per hour5 hours
Web browsing180 MB per hour5-6 hours
Scrolling/posting on social media90 MB per hour10-11 hours
Streaming audio60 MB per hour18-19 hours
Sending/receiving emails40 MB per 100 emails2,500 emails

You don’t use much data sending emails, reading the news, scrolling social media, shopping online, or streaming music and podcasts. Even online gaming has a relatively modest impact on your data cap. If this constitutes the bulk of what you do online, then a 1 TB data cap is plenty.

If you’re looking for fast internet with a lot of data, run your zip code below to see what’s available in your area.

With rural internet, you get a lot less data than usual

Many rural parts of the United States have limited internet options, and sometimes the only service you can get is satellite or fixed wireless internet—both of which often come with stringent data caps.

Why does satellite internet have low data caps?

Satellite internet usually comes with very low caps because its connection—literally beamed down from a satellite in space—has a limited capacity for carrying internet data. With only so much to go around, data becomes a hot commodity. The only exception to this rule is with Starlink, SpaceX’s new satellite internet service, which offers unlimited data to customers. But Starlink has limited availability right now.

Data caps on satellite internet

Internet providerData capConnection typeMore info
HughesNet15–75 GB/mo.Satellite
Viasat12–300 GB/mo.Satellite
StarlinkUnlimitedSatelliteLearn More

When you run out of data on a satellite connection, your internet provider slows your speeds to a snail’s pace, deprioritizing your web traffic in favor of other paying customers.

The good news is you don’t get stuck having to pay extra fees; the bad news is your internet becomes basically useless for anything other than the most basic browsing and email checking.

Not sure how to get a handle on a tiny data cap? See our life lessons on internet data above for recommendations.

Why does fixed wireless internet have low data caps?

Fixed wireless sometimes has low data caps because it depends on a cellular network, which may not always have wide coverage in a remote area.

The data caps on fixed wireless internet usually aren’t as bad as what you get from satellite, but they can still be low. Rise Broadband’s 50 Mbps Internet plan has a 250 GB monthly cap, while AT&T’s Fixed Wireless Internet service comes with 350 GB per month.

That’s probably enough data to cover basic browsing and some occasional video streaming throughout a month. But it’s not enough to sustain more regular streaming in HD or a lot of users on multiple devices.

Data caps on fixed wireless internet

Internet providerData capConnection typeMore info
Rise Broadband250 GB/mo. (unlimited options available in some areas)Fixed wirelessView Plans
AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet350 GB/mo.Fixed wireless

When you use too much data on a fixed wireless plan, you usually get hit with an automatic overage fee—for example, AT&T charges $10 for every 50 GB you go over, with a maximum of $200.

Rise Broadband and some other fixed wireless providers offer plans with unlimited data, though. Unlimited data costs more on fixed wireless; Rise’s unlimited plans cost $20 more than the non-unlimited ones with the same respective speeds. But we recommend going that route rather than risking even more excessive overage charges.

Is 100 GB a month enough for home internet?

A data cap of 100 GB per month is probably not enough for home internet nowadays. You can burn through that much data in a matter of days—possibly even hours—if you’re not careful. But you don’t need to worry as much if you mostly do things like browsing and checking email while online.

Having 100 GB of data per month is great for a hotspot or cellular plan that you use intermittently throughout the month. Hotspots are meant for traveling or working away from the home or office. It can be hard to find a hotspot data plan that even gives you that much data in the first place, so if you can get that much, it’s a plus.

But 100 GB is not gonna cut it for most residential internet plans. A home Wi-Fi network usually gets heavy use on a daily basis, and you likely could have a lot more users on your home network compared to a hotspot plan. Residential internet users consume a lot more data in general, requiring a higher baseline data cap.

However, 100 GB might be enough if you use the internet infrequently, have only one or two Wi-Fi devices at home, and mostly log on to do low-bandwidth activities.

How much data do you get from a hotspot?

You can get anywhere from 2 GB to 100 GB per month with your phone’s hotspot or a mobile hotspot.

Hotspots are a great tool if you spend a lot of time working outside your home or office. You can also use one if you’re house-sitting, traveling, or taking a short break at a vacation home. But they require data plans to work, and those plans usually come with strict data limits. The data comes from a cellular network, which doesn’t have the same throughput capacity as a residential fiber, cable, or DSL internet network.

Even when you can get unlimited data on a hotspot, watch out for caveats. T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T technically give you unlimited hotspot data, but your plan comes with a set amount of premium, high-speed data for the month.

After that’s all used up, you get unlimited data at slow-creeping speeds that aren’t good for much. The phone plan from Visible, meanwhile, promises unlimited hotspot data, but only at 5 Mbps with just one Wi-Fi device connected at a time.

Best hotspot data plans

PlanPriceData allowanceMore info
Best overallT-Mobile 2GB$10.00/mo.2 GB/mo. (can order more GB w/ data pass)View Plan
Best for 5GVerizon Pro$60.00/mo. (w/ existing Unlimited phone plan), $90.00/mo. (w/out phone plan)100 GB of 4G LTE/5G, then reduced to 600 KbpsView Plan
Best for cell phone hotspotsT-Mobile Magenta Max$85.00/mo.40 GB/mo. (followed by unlimited 3G speeds)View Plan
Best data dealAT&T PREPAID 100 GB$55.00/mo. (w/ autopay)100 GB/mo.View Plan
Best prepaid planVisible phone plan$40.00/mo. (plus price of hotspot)Unlimited (max 5 Mbps speeds, connects only one device at a time)View Plan
Best for international travelSolis Global Daypass$9.00/day1 GBView Plan

Pro tip:

Get more details on these hotspot data offerings in our guide to the best hotspot data plans.

FAQ about how much data you need

How much data do I need per month?

You need at least 600 GB of data per month to comfortably do a range of activities online.

How much data do I use per month?

On average, North American internet users consumed 536 GB of broadband data per month in 2021. That’s an 11% increase from the same time period in 2020.1 Trends show that internet users are consuming more internet data each year compared to the year before.

What is internet data?

Internet data is the digital information and content you consume as you spend time on the internet. Data can be anything from a video stream to a video game file to The New York Times homepage. System upgrades also count as digital data. All of this counts towards your monthly data cap (if you have one).

What is a data cap?

A data cap is a usage limit enforced by an internet provider, dictating the maximum amount of internet you’re allowed to use per month. Internet providers usually call it a data limit, data usage, usage allowance, or “fair use policy.”

Most internet providers offer a data cap of 1 TB per month, but some providers have unlimited data on all or some of their plans. Satellite internet providers have much lower data caps.

Sources

  1. OpenVault, “Broadband Insights Report—Q4 2021,” March 2022. Accessed March 2, 2022.

Author -

Peter Holslin has more than a decade of experience working as a writer and freelance journalist. He graduated with a BA in liberal arts and journalism from New York City’s The New School University in 2008 and went on to contribute to publications like Rolling Stone, VICE, BuzzFeed, and countless others. At HighSpeedInternet.com, he focuses on covering 5G, nerding out about frequency bands and virtual RAN, and producing reviews on emerging services like 5G home internet. He also writes about internet providers and packages, hotspots, VPNs, and Wi-Fi troubleshooting.

Editor - Rebecca Lee Armstrong

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.