How Much Internet Data Do You Need?
Most people need around 600GB 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.
Usually internet providers give you 1TB (1,000GB) of data per month, although some providers like Xfinity have been slightly more generous. That’s plenty for most people. But exceeding your cap leads to overage fees or throttled speeds.
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.
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 533.8GB per month on their home internet plan, according to a recent report from OpenVault.
The number of internet users who consume more than 500GB each month is steadily climbing each year. Just over 16% of internet customers are “power users” who consume 1TB of data or more each month—a rate that has gone up 14.5% since last year, the report notes. 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.
How to figure out how much data you need
|Internet activity||Minimum recommended data per month|
|Streaming video in HD||300GB|
|Making video calls on Zoom||60GB|
|Running home security cameras||30–300 GB (depending on video resolution and frequency of activity captured by the cameras)|
|Web browsing and checking email||40GB|
|Streaming music or podcasts||13GB|
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.
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.
Best internet plans with unlimited data
|Google Fiber 1 Gig||$70.00/mo.†||1,000Mbps|
|T-Mobile Home Internet||$50.00/mo. (with autopay)§||33–182Mbps||View Plan|
|Spectrum Internet® 300 Mbps||$49.99/mo. for 12 mos.**||Up to 300Mbps (wireless speeds may vary)|
|Astound Broadband 300 Mbps Internet||$20.00–$25.00/mo. for the first 12 mos.‡||300Mbps|
|Earthlink Fiber 1 Gig||$89.95/mo.*||1,000Mbps|
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.
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?
Xfinity imposes a data cap of 1.2 TB per month on all of its internet plans. That’s enough for most people, and it’s slightly better than average as far as data caps go.
However, you may need more data if you have an Xfinity plan with speeds of 1,000 Mbps or faster. On average, internet users with gigabit speeds use more than 1 TB of data in a month.
Xfinity’s Unlimited Data Option gives an unlimited quantity of internet data for an extra $30 per month. Having unlimited data means you’re less likely to go over your data cap and incur extra charges. Of course, this doesn’t beat internet providers like Spectrum and Astound Broadband, which give you unlimited data at no extra cost.
Life lessons for consuming internet data
Lesson one: Stream video in SD to use less data
|Activity||Minimum recommended data per month||How much time it takes to use 1 GB|
|Streaming video in SD||500MB per hour||2 hours|
|Streaming video in HD||2GB per hour||30 minutes|
|Streaming video in 4K||8GB per hour||7.5 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
|Download||How much data it uses|
|A six-page PDF||5.9MB|
|An HD movie||Approx. 4GB|
|A video game or game update||Approx. 20-60GB|
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
|Activity||How much data it uses||How much time it takes to use 1 GB|
|Making a video call in SD||340MB per hour||3 hours|
|Making a video call in HD||2GB per hour||30 minutes|
|Running a smart home security camera||2GB per hour||30 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
|Activity||How much data it uses||How much time it takes to use 1 GB|
|Online gaming||200MB per hour||5 hours|
|Web browsing||180MB per hour||5-6 hours|
|Scrolling/posting on social media||90MB per hour||10-11 hours|
|Streaming audio||60MB per hour||18-19 hours|
|Sending/receiving emails||40MB per 100 emails||2,500 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.
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 1 TB of data per month to customers. That puts Starlink on par with typical internet providers rather than its satellite rivals.
Data caps on satellite internet
|Internet provider||Data cap||Connection type||Order online|
|Starlink||1 TB/mo.||Satellite||Learn 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. With Starlink, though, you can pay $0.25 for each additional GB of data you use to maintain your speeds.
Although throttled speeds are never fun, the good news is you don’t get stuck having to pay extra fees from HughesNet or Viasat. 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 provider||Data cap||Connection type||Order online|
|Rise Broadband||250 GB/mo. (unlimited options available in some areas)||Fixed wireless|
|AT&T Fixed Wireless Internet||350 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.
How much cell phone data do you need?
You need 10GB of data per month for your cell phone to use social media, make VoIP calls, stream videos, and do other internet activities regularly without worrying about using up your data or getting slowed speeds.
For most people, 10GB is a solid amount of cellular data to cover your internet needs when you aren’t able to log onto a Wi-Fi network on your phone. But you should definitely get more data if you use your phone daily to do data-heavy tasks like making Zoom calls, streaming video on Netflix, or hosting a livestream.
Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all have phone plans that give you 50GB or even unlimited premium data every month. You have to pay significantly more for those plans, of course, but it may be worth the price if you regularly burn through your phone data.
Although many cell phone plans tout “unlimited” data, in reality most of those plans have caps on high-speed data. The cap could be anywhere from 5GB to 100GB, depending on the plan, and when you go over, your speeds revert to crushingly slow, sub–1 Mbps speeds.
How much mobile data do you get from a 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.
Get more details on these hotspot data offerings in our guide to the best hotspot data plans.
FAQ about how much data you need
Best unlimited internet plans (return to top)
Data effective as of 5/26/23. Pricing and speeds are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas.
*with a 12-month contract.
** Limited time offer; subject to change; valid to qualified residential customers who have not subscribed to any services within the previous 30 days and who have no outstanding obligation to Charter.
†Terms and Conditions: Plus taxes and fees. Service not available in all areas. If you live in an apartment or condo, Google Fiber’s ability to construct and provide Fiber is subject to the continued agreement between Google Fiber and the property owner. Upload/download speed and device streaming claims are based on maximum wired speeds. Actual Internet speeds are not guaranteed and may vary based on factors such as hardware and software limitations, latency, packet loss, etc.
‡No contract required. 24 Month Internet Pricing. Equipment priced separately. Includes $5 discount w/ ebill & autopay. Observed speeds may vary. Excludes surcharges and fees. New residential customers only.
§*w/ Auto Pay. Internet provider not available in all areas; customers ineligible for 5G Home Internet may be eligible for 4G LTE or other fixed wireless options. Regulatory fees included in monthly price for qualified accounts. See full terms.
Author - Peter Holslin
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.