Mobile Data Plan Limits: How Much Can I Download?

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With the advent of tiered pricing for wireless broadband service--and the eventual disappearance of unlimited data plans--it’s more important than ever to understand how much data you can pull down from the Web before reaching your plan limit and being liable for overage charges.

Earlier this year, AT&T and Verizon adopted tiered data pricing systems--AT&T in June and Verizon in October--and the rest of the industry is expected to follow. Lower tiers for smartphone data can have limits as low as 200 megabytes (MB) per month ($15/month, AT&T), while the upper tiers for tablets and mobile hotspots can offer as much as 10 gigabytes (GB) of data per month ($80/month, Verizon). When you take a close look at the data usage you've become accustomed to during the month, you might find that those caps--especially in the lower tiers--are easier to reach than you might think.

In this chart (click thumbnail image at right for full-size view), we show, using concrete examples, how much content you can download before reaching various plan limits.

Setting aside the issue of overage limits for a moment, understanding your monthly data usage can help you pick a data plan that gives you just enough data per month, while relieving you of paying for data allowances you'll never use. This summer, a study from Nielsen found that average smartphone data consumption was just shy of 300MB. So for many users, buying a 5GB plan, for example, would be overkill.

On the other hand, the Nielson study also found that average data usage is growing quickly. Mobile data users pulled down 230 percent more data in this study than when Nielson did the same study a year earlier.

You can also try AT&T’s and Verizon's data usage calculators to help you estimate how much data you use each month.

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