How to pick a cell phone data plan

Today, the data we use is more important than our calling plan. From playing mobile games and binge-watching our favorite shows to checking work emails and reviewing reports, we’re using data all the time.

Where does your data go?

Nowadays, it’s rare to see a cell phone plan without unlimited talk and text. If you’re going to compare phone plans, you need to zoom in on the data. Any restrictions—and ultimately, the price—depend on how much data you need and where you use it.

Remember, the data you use on Wi-Fi® doesn’t count as part of your cell phone plan. But be careful: Many Internet plans have data limits too. You’ve got to find the right balance between your cell phone data and Internet data if you want to keep your costs down.

So, how much data do you use? Here’s how the data use stacks up, least to beast.

Use a little

Email: If you’re getting both personal and work emails on your cell phone, you might open as many as 250 emails a day. Most of those won’t have attachments, and you can save those until you’re on Wi-Fi. About 250MB per month

Web browsing: Your data use depends on where you tend to go. Also, this doesn’t count what you do when you get there. If you’re streaming videos or using a browser-based game, you can expect that number to jump. About 500MB per month

Social media: The only problem here is if you upload a dozen pics at a time—when you’re not on Wi-Fi—you awaken the data hog. Otherwise, each update or post averages 75 to 100KB, barely pennies on your data dollar. About 1GB or less per month

Use a lot

Games: If your phone replaces your handheld—and lets you run with your MMO guild—you need to keep an eye out for any secure Wi-Fi in reach. Seriously, gaming can eat up your data at a wicked rate. If you’re just relaxing with the latest Match 3 game, you probably sip at your data more than devour it, but use caution. Even simple games can use more data than you expect if they’re juggling a lot of players or rendering nice graphics. Mobile games might use very little data, or top over 100GB a day. Save your data by using Wi-Fi, or consider an unlimited plan.

Music and podcasts: Streaming audio racks up a lot of data. How much data depends on your quality setting. Check to see if you’re at 320Kbps, the highest setting in most apps. This setting pulls just under 1GB of data in an 8-hour day.1 If you don’t want to crank through 115MB an hour, lower your quality setting or download your favorites over Wi-Fi.

Video: Nothing impacts your data more than streaming video. Let’s say you watch just one 60-minute show per week at HD quality. In a typical month, that’s 4GB, gone. Or, are you streaming more like an hour a day? On most major providers’ unlimited plans, you might see your speed reduced during busy hours after you use all your high-speed data. That can make the rest of your month pass very slowly. If you drop the video quality to standard-definition from HD quality, you’ll save 22GB a month.

What’s the right plan for you?

To choose your data plan, weigh how you use your data against how much you’d like to pay.

Stream on: You want your entertainment everywhere. AT&T unlimited plans include unlimited data, talk, and text. You will never pay overage fees. And you can even get discounts on your video service, like DIRECTV NOW℠, so you can keep on streaming.

Family first: You want enough data for everybody to work and play. Mobile Share FlexSM plans with unlimited talk and text provide the amount of data you choose, shared across all of your family’s devices. Rollover Data® saves the data you don’t use this month, and adds it the data you can use next month.

Better budget: You want a plan that changes as your needs change. AT&T PREPAIDSM plans have no annual contract and no credit check. You pay for what you want when you want it.

No matter which provider you choose, you’ll find their unlimited plans tend to cost more than shared plans. The least expensive option is usually prepaid—and that’s only if they offer all three. You might find more value in more choices.

For additional information or to ask a question about any of the AT&T data plans go to the AT&T Community Forums.


Article partially based on research from

This article was written by an AT&T employee. The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of AT&T.

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