Two thirds of Brits don’t use their data allowance

Changing data plan can save you pounds every month.

Updated

Fact checked
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Ever wondered how much data you need and what plan best suits you? If the answer is yes, look no further as we have summarised all there is to know about data usage, plans and providers! If you are just looking for a comprehensive comparison of UK mobile phone plans, we’ve also got you covered.

Quick stats

  • The average price for 1GB in the UK is £5.
  • Each Brit uses on average 2.9 GB of mobile data every month, but this number is expected to rise. On-demand video services uses 56% of all our mobile data.
  • The average data used for one hour of streaming is 500MB.
  • According to our research, two thirds of UK residents (67%) don’t normally use all the mobile data they pay for.
  • 79% of UK adults owns a smartphone.

Overall data usage

According to our research, two-thirds of UK residents (67%) don’t normally use all the mobile data they pay for. In fact, 69% of people within this figure say they “never” reach their monthly allowance. This indicates that many of us are paying for a load of data that we don’t use and could cut our monthly bills.

Only 12% of respondents say they have a suitable mobile data plan and usually use all the data they pay for, and on average each Brit uses about 2.9 GB of data per month.

Is anyone underestimating their monthly data usage? We found that this is much rarer – around 1 in 20 (6%) in our survey exceed their monthly data allowance and pay for more, while another 7% exceed their limit but don’t shell out for more gigabytes.

A lucky 7% of us never have to worry as we have unlimited data plans and a fifth (19%) don’t bother with a plan (because they have pay-as-you-go or don’t have a mobile).

Usage Percentage
Use less than they're allowed 67.3%
Normally use the right amount 12.2%
Reach their data limit most months 11.6%
Spend more on extra data 6.3%
Have unlimited data plan 7.4%

What data plan should I get?

Only 12% of respondents say they have a suitable mobile data plan and usually use all the data they pay for. But before diving into which plans offer the best value for money, here is a quick reference point of what 1 and 4 GB of mobile data will get you.

What you can do with 1 GB of data

  • 40 minutes daily of web browsing and social media.
  • Or 10 hours per month of music.
  • Or 1-2 films per month.

What you can do with 4 GB of data

  • 3 hours daily of web browsing and social media.
  • Or 40 mins of browsing and 1 hour of music daily.
  • Or 40 mins of browsing daily and a few films each month.

Gender differences

According to our research, more women than men find themselves paying for data they don’t need, as 68% of British women with a phone plan say they don’t use all their data whereas 66% of men thought this.
Female Male
Use less than they're allowed 68.3% 66.1%
Normally use the right amount 12.8% 11.6%
Reach their data limit most months 5.7% 8.1%
Spend more on extra data 6.5% 6.1%
Have unlimited data plan 6.6% 8.1%

Generational differences

Baby boomers are the generation most likely not to reach their monthly data quota. Over three quarters (77%) say they use less than their data allowance and only 4% pay for more data. Postmillenials, born after 1996, are the generation most likely to pay for additional data, with 14% saying they do so.
Generation Use less than they're allowed Normally use the right amount Reach their data limit most months Spend more on extra data Have unlimited data plan
Silent (born 1928–1945) 75.60% 6.70% 4.40% 4.40% 13.30%
Boomers (born 1946–1964) 77.00% 8.60% 6.20% 3.00% 8.20%
Generation X (born 1965–1980) 63.00% 13.00% 13.00% 4.40% 7.60%
Millennials (born 1981–1996) 59.50% 15.20% 19.80% 10.30% 5.50%
Postmillennial/generation Z (born after 1996) 58.00% 13.60% 20.50% 14.00% 8.00%

Geographical differences

Residents of Wales appear to use the least data – 72% say they use less than their limit and only 4% of the Welsh feel the need to top up. Least likely to spend their money on more data are those in the East Midlands, where 1% buys extra data at the end of the month.
At the other end of the scale is Northern Ireland, where over half (55%) of residents see their monthly usage stay within the limit and a quarter (25%) reach their limit. Northern Ireland is also the region where people spend the most on extra data each month, as 14% (twice the UK average) buy a few extra gigs to roam around the net.
East Anglia East Midlands London North East North West Northern Ireland Scotland South East South West Wales West Midlands Yorkshire and the Humber
Use less than they're allowed 70.2% 70.0% 63.3% 67.6% 67.9% 54.5% 68.7% 66.7% 70.3% 72.0% 62.0% 70.2%
Normally use the right amount 11.2% 17.0% 14.2% 11.6% 12.3% 9.1% 8.9% 12.2% 12.0% 8.5% 15.1% 11.2%
Reach their data limit most months 9.0% 5.0% 16.0% 11.6% 10.2% 25.0% 16.3% 13.5% 13.3% 13.4% 16.0% 13.4%
Spend more on extra data 4.5% 1.0% 8.0% 10.1% 5.0% 14.0% 6.1% 7.6% 7.0% 4.0% 4.3% 8.2%

Data use per activity

Unsurprisingly, the most data-intensive activity one can do is video streaming, with an average data use of 500 MB per hour. Video calling is a distant second, costing roughly 180 MB of your monthly plan per hour, followed by instant messaging, online video gaming and social media, all of which share third place with an average hourly cost of 50 MB.

Activity Average data use (per hour)
Web browsing/Social media 50MB
Instant messaging 50MB
Email 1MB
Music streaming 100MB
Video streaming 500MB
Online gaming 50MB
Video calling 180MB

Most popular phone plans:

Three has been crowned the overall winner of data plans available in the UK, offering unlimited 4G for a mere £15 a month. While this is SIM-only, the cheapest monthly deal including a smartphone is just £27, which isn’t to shabby either. However, the cheapest unlimited data plan available on the market is currently offered by Talk Talk, where for only £12 a month customers are able to enjoy unlimited streaming, messaging and video-calling.

RankProviderEvaluationPrice
#1Picture not describedThreeThree is unique among the big mobile providers as it effectively offers an unlimited 4G data plan. While the website suggests an upper limit of 1000GB, this is based on the maximum you would physically be able to download in a month, if you were to use your phone constantly.The unlimited data plan starts from £15 per month on a SIM-only deal and £28 per month with a handset.
#2Picture not described02While O2’s biggest plan offers 20GB of 4G with an iPhone 6 or a Samsung Galaxy S6, for most phones this only extends to 10GB.A SIM-only deal for 10GB starts at £32.
#3Picture not describedVodafoneVodafone’s biggest data offer comes in at 25GB.The lowest possible price for the 25GB deal with a phone will set you back £47 a month. For SIM-only you can get 20GB for £40 a month.
#4Picture not describedEEEE’s largest data plan offers a maximum of 20GB.The cheapest deal for 20GB is £39.99 a month.
#5Picture not describedgiffgaffIts SIM-only bundles offer 5GB per month of 4G data, although they offer unlimited 3G bundlesThe biggest data bundle costs £18 per month, but as this is a SIM-only deal you will have to provide your own device. 4G bundles start at £12 a month for 1GB
#6Picture not describedTalk TalkTalkTalk offers an unlimited data pay monthly SIM, so you may have to provide your own device. Yet, the company is one of the only providers on this list that offers a quad-play bundle, making it a strong contender in the family market.At £12 a month, this is currently as the cheapest unlimited data plan in the UK.
#7Picture not describediD(Carphone Warehouse)The network provider from Carphone Warehouse, iD, offers unlimited data on a pay monthly SIM.£20 a month.
#8Picture not describedBT mobileBT Mobile offers a 20GB SIM-only, which is slightly short of Vodafone and Three, offering 25GB and Three, iD and giffgaff which offer unlimited bundles.Customers can access the 20GB plan for £25 a month. The service is cheaper if you are a BT broadband customer, bringing the cost down by £5 a month. The overall cheapest price includes 500MB a month for £5
#9Picture not describedTesco MobileTesco Mobile, the UK’s largest mobile network, offers a maximum of 8 GB. In the SIM-only deal, you’ll also get 5000 minutes, 5000 texts and 8 GB data.To get 8GB of data you will pay £25 a month for a SIM-only contract. With the Nokia Lumia 635 you will pay £27 a month. Tesco Mobile’s overall cheapest deal comes in at £10 a month with a Huawei Ascend Y550 and 500MB.
#10Picture not describedMobile by Sainsbury’s2GB data is the biggest bundle you can get at Sainsbury’s. But the deal is super flexible as it allows you to change between its three different plans each month according to your needs.With its £12 a month deal, it offers a 50 % discount for the first three months. The cheapest deal will give you 500MB of data for £8.

Jon’s top tips:

To avoid getting sold a plan that charges you for data you don’t need, or to just cut down on how much data you use, here are some top tips:

  • Your network provider may offer an app that will allow you to track your data usage – take a look at this information before you take out a contract so you can select a plan that matches your data usage
  • Free Wi-Fi is often available in restaurants and cafes now, so always be on the lookout for this to reduce data usage
  • Some phones have settings where you can set up warnings and limits on data levels
  • You can surf the web using less data than normal with Android’s “Lite mode”
  • If you plan to listen to music or podcasts on the go, download them before you head out to avoid streaming
  • If your usage tends to fluctuate each month, opting for a contract that allows you to pass on any unused data to the next month could be an excellent option for you

“It is now commonplace for most Brits to browse the web on their phones throughout the day and this requires a fair amount of data. However, there are lots of ways that you can preserve your data allowance and our research shows that many Brits appear to be overestimating how much data they need.”

– Jon Ostler, UK CEO at finder.com

Methodology

Finder.com commissioned Onepoll to carry out a nationally representative survey of adults aged 18+.
A total of 2,000 people were questioned throughout Great Britain, with representative quotas for gender, age and region.

Click here for more research. For all media enquiries, please contact:

Matt Mckenna
UK communications manager
M: +44 747 921 7816
T: +44 20 8191 8806
matt.mckenna@finder.com@MichHutchison/in/matthewmckenna2

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