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How Much Data Does Netflix Use On Your Phone?

Unlimited minutes and text messages have become commonplace for cell phone plans, making data the key factor that differentiates them. After all, consumers use more data than ever, especially on their smartphones. With the option of watching Netflix on a smartphone, consumers want to know how fast it will be and how much of their data it will use. This depends on both the consumer’s data package and mobile device.

Obviously, it’s impossible to provide an exact prediction of how much data an individual will use by watching Netflix on their smartphone since everyone’s viewing habits are different. But it is possible to take the average subscriber’s viewing habits and estimate how much data that amount of viewing will use. There are about 120 million Netflix subscribers at this time, and they average one-and-a-half hours of streaming per day. Before getting to the estimates, let’s look more at how streaming on Netflix works and the importance of speed.

How Internet Speed Affects Streaming on Netflix

The unit of measurement that’s used for internet speed is bits per second. Although this guide coves smartphone data use, the minimum internet speed needed to stream any sort of video content is 0.5 megabits per second (Mbps), regardless of the device. It could be a smartphone or it could be a computer, but that minimum remains the same. Although 0.5 Mbps is the minimum, internet speed also affects the quality of the video, and 0.5 Mbps would result in a very low quality video.

The recommended speed for streaming video content is 1.5 Mbps, but that still doesn’t meet the recommendations for Netflix. To watch Netflix content in Standard Definition (SD), the recommended internet speed is 3 Mbps. To watch Netflix content in High Definition (HD), the recommended internet speed is 5 Mbps. If the user wants to watch content in Ultra High Definition (4K), the recommended internet speed is 25 Mbps.

Faster internet speeds result in higher data use, and this data use is typically measured in gigabytes (GB). Fortunately, it’s easy for a user to estimate how much data they’ll use watching Netflix based on the quality of the video content and how long they watch it for. With SD streaming on Netflix, one hour of watching will consume about 1 GB of data. With HD streaming on Netflix, one hour of watching will consume about 3 GB of data.

The Difference Between SD and HD

What separates SD from HD is how many pixels are used, as HD provides more pixels per square inch than SD. This means that HD video content is much sharper and more realistic. Although most devices used to provide SD video content, HD has become the standard now and it’s what most consumers are used to.

Data Use for Streaming Netflix in Standard Definition

SD lives up to its name by providing a standard viewing experience. It’s not bad, and most viewers won’t mind it, but it will detract from shows and movies with topnotch special effects. Of course, those who are streaming Netflix on their phones typically don’t mind SD since the screen is smaller anyway.

Since data plans provide a data allowance for one month at a time, it’s important to know how much data Netflix will consume over the course of one month. With one hour of SD streaming per month, total data consumption will be about 1 GB. At once a week, it will use 4 GB per month. Twice a week will be 8 GB per month, every other day will be 15 GB per month and every day will be 30 GB per month.

With three to five hours of streaming in SD per day, those data consumption numbers go up quite a bit. Doing that once a month will use 3 to 5 GB per month, one a week will use 12 to 20 GB, twice a week will use 24 to 40 GB, every other day will use 45 to 75 GB and every day will use 90 to 150 GB.

Data Use for Streaming Netflix in HD

HD will obviously use much more data per month than SD, which means an unlimited data plan will probably seem like a smart move. This may or may not be true depending on the consumer’s viewing habits, as there could be other options available.

When it comes to monthly data usage, streaming Netflix in HD for one hour once a month will use 3 GB. Once a week will use 12 GB per month, twice a week will use 24 GB, every other day will use 45 GB and every day will use 90 GB.

Streaming Netflix in HD for three to five hours once a month will use 9 to 15 GB. Once a week will use 36 to 60 GB, twice a week will use 72 to 120 GB, every other day will use 135 to 225 GB and every day will use 270 to 450 GB.

It’s easier to consumer this kind of data than a person might think. If they watch a favorite show for one hour every day in HD, that’s already 90 GB consumed per month. And they probably use extra data in their everyday lives. They will either need an unlimited plan to cover their needs or give SD a try.

How Netflix Manipulates Streaming Speeds

Throttling is a term for when a company slows down the internet speed of a user who has exceeded a data limit. This is common among internet and phone companies, and even unlimited plans typically have a threshold. Reaching that threshold results in slower service.

Even though Netflix is neither a phone nor an internet service provider, it announced that over about five years, it has throttled users who have hit a data limit. It claims this was done to ensure Verizon and AT&T customers didn’t end up with expensive overages. When a user had their Netflix streaming speeds throttled, they could still view content, but it would be much lower quality. Verizon and AT&T didn’t like that Netflix was doing this. It wasn’t an issue with T-Mobile and Sprint, since those carriers were already throttling users who reached certain data thresholds.

Netflix has given mobile viewers more control since then, allowing them to set the streaming experience they want in their account settings. This gives each viewer the option of going with lower quality streaming if they’re close to a data limit or higher quality if they’ve got plenty of data to spare.

Zero Data and Netflix

One final important topic is zero data, which is a way for a carrier to allow consumers to stream Netflix without using any of their data. T-Mobile is currently the only carrier that offers this feature, which it calls Binge On.

What T-Mobile does is optimize or compress the file size of the video the user is streaming to make it consume less data. The user gets to stream for free without using data from their own plan. This feature applies to any customers of T-Mobile with a plan providing 3 GB or more of data.

The first of the major U.S. carriers to offer zero data was AT&T through their Mobile Share Advantage plan. This slows the user’s data speeds once they hit a monthly cap. Verizon recently launched Go90, its zero-data service, and it is an all-in-one app that the user can install on their smartphone. Although a couple large streaming service companies are participating, Netflix is not at this time. Sprint gave zero data a try, but it was only during the summer of 2016 for a soccer tournament, the Copa America Centenario. After the tournament ended, so did Sprint’s zero data.

The good news for consumers is that managing data has only gotten easier. They have the option of adjusting their streaming preferences or waiting to hit their cell carrier’s caps, or they can simply monitor their usage to avoid this. It is important for every consumer to consider how much data they’re going to use every month, especially for mobile Netflix streaming, since many users like to binge watch.

When it comes to unlimited data plans there are options available from all the major carriers. Spring has its Unlimited Plan, T-Mobile offers ONE Unlimited, AT&T has Unlimited Data Choice and Verizon has its Go Unlimited Plan.