1 Gigabyte of Data Versus Unlimited Data — What’s the Difference?

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Woman using data on her smartphone
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Data is now the most important thing in a cellphone plan.

Back in the day, folks had to keep a close eye on their texts and minutes on phone calls, and that doesn’t really happen anymore. If you were to ask a Gen Z kid how many texts they sent this month, I guarantee you they would have no idea. Most millennials, however, remember the pain of running out of text messages halfway through the month.

Enough waxing poetic about the old days: In 2021, wireless data is king and the main component in your cellphone bill. The more data you have, the more expensive your cellphone bill gets.

So let’s look at the difference between 1GB cellphone plans and unlimited data plans to help you decide what’s better for you.

What is a gigabyte?

Starting with the basics, a gigabyte is a metric used to measure data usage.

A gigabyte is equal to 1,000 megabytes, and one megabyte is equal to 1,000 kilobytes. Do you see where this is going? Every time you stream, download, or browse the internet on your phone, you use some amount of data.

Cellphone plans give you a specific amount of gigabytes every month to use, and if you go past your data allotment, you get charged extra money. Nobody wants that.

To better understand the difference between a 1GB data plan and an unlimited plan, it’s important to know how much data is used up by different activities on your phone.

How much data do I use?

Basically, every app on your smartphone uses internet data to function. As a rule of thumb, if you’re streaming, gaming or browsing any kind of social media, you’re using data. Here’s a table to break down the data usage per hour for some of the most common apps and activities:

  • Online gaming: 3MB to 300MB
  • Streaming podcasts: approximately 60 MB
  • Browsing the internet: approximately 2GB
  • FaceTime: approximately 185MB
  • Streaming music: approximately 150MB
  • Snapchat: approximately160MB
  • YouTube: approximately 300MB
  • TikTok: approximately 840MB
  • Instagram: approximately 720MB
  • Zoom call: approximately 800MB

It’s easy to see how quickly data can add up. For example, if you scrolled through TikTok for an hour and FaceTimed with a friend for half an hour, you’ll have already used a gigabyte of internet.

Sadly, the most popular apps are data hogs and built with unlimited data in mind. If you’re trying to stick to just 1GB of data every month, you’ll need to make sure to connect to Wi-Fi as much as possible.

Use Wi-Fi as much as you can

If you decide to go with a limited data plan, then Wi-Fi is your best friend. When you’re connected to Wi-Fi, you essentially have unlimited data at your disposal.

Rather than take from your monthly data pool, your phone will get data via Wi-Fi. So, if you’re connected to Wi-Fi at home, then all of your smartphone activities won’t spend a single bit of your wireless data.

Most public places offer Wi-Fi, and it’s absolutely in your best interest to connect whenever you can to conserve data.

1GB versus unlimited data

Now that we’ve established how data is measured and how much is used in common apps, it’s time to decide what’s better between a 1GB cellphone plan and an unlimited data cellphone plan. Obviously, the biggest difference between the two (besides the data) is the cost.

You’ll pay a fraction of the price of an unlimited plan if you go with a single-gigabyte data plan, but you’ll need to live without constant access to your favorite apps. Needing Google Maps when you’re lost on a trip comes to mind.

Let’s take a look at the price difference between the two to see if it’s worth it:

Most popular unlimited cellphone plans

Most popular limited-data cellphone plans

There is a pretty dramatic difference in price between a 1GB cellphone plan and an unlimited cellphone plan, especially when you look at the difference over the course of a year.

For example, you can get 1 GB of data (and unlimited talk and text) from US Mobile for $7 per month, which will only cost you $84 over the course of a year.

The most popular (and affordable) unlimited plan is Mint Mobile, which costs $30 per month for unlimited data, talk and text. Over the course of a year, Mint Mobile will cost you $360.

That’s more than a $250 per year difference between an unlimited plan and a single-gigabyte plan.

For most folks, it makes the most sense to pay the extra money and not have to worry about data usage and, more importantly, any data overages.

But if you want to keep your cellphone costs at an absolute minimum with a 1GB plan, you can make it work as long as you connect to Wi-Fi everywhere you can.

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