How Much Data Netflix Actually Uses on Your Mobile

29 March 2017

We use data. Like, a lot. Sure, we’ll pay close attention to our text and talk options whenever we compare cell phone plans. But what we really want to know is how fast, how affordable, and how streamy our Netflix and other online video services will be. All of this depends on the type of mobile device you have and what sort of data package you’ve signed up for. Do you want to know what some of the best unlimited data plans are? We've sorted through everything to bring you the best and help you compare unlimited data plans so you can stream at your pace. Chances are you’re one of the 120 million subscribers around the world who enjoys streaming Netflix. The average Netflix subscriber streams 1.5 hours a day. If that sounds like you, here’s where you find out exactly how much data it’s costing you and how that could affect your next phone plan purchase. 

Netflix Streaming Basics: Speed Matters

Bits per second. That’s how Internet speed is measured. The very minimum your device needs in order to stream anything is 0.5 Megabits Per Second. The speed requirement is the same regardless of the device. In this case, we’re talking only about your mobile device. What makes a difference here is the quality of video you want
0.5 Mbps – minimum Internet speed for streaming

1.5 Mbps - recommended speed for streaming

3.0 Mbps - recommended for Standard Definition streaming NETFLIX STANDARD DEFINITION
5.0 Mbps - recommended for High Definition streaming
25 Mbps – recommended Internet speed for Ultra High Definition (4K) streaming

The faster your speed, the bigger the GB. The bigger the GB, the more data used. Compare data plans here to be sure you're using what you pay for. Netflix uses about 1GB of data per hour of streaming Standard Definition and 3GB of data per hour of streaming High Definition. What that means is that when you stream anything from Netflix, how you watch makes just as big of a difference as how much you watch. 
Standard Definition vs. High Definition

The difference is in the number of pixels used. High Definition has more pixels per square inch and Standard Definition has less. The big deal is that HD shows much finer detail so you really see everything much truer to real life as possible. SD is slightly “fuzzier” but for the most part only noticeable when you’re looking for it.

Netflix in SD Streaming

The quality of Standard Definition is just that – standard. It’s like watching an old Seinfeld episode. Good, but not exactly Avatar in 4K or anything. If you’re okay with this, as plenty of folks are who are only watching from their phone, check out this chart. This should help you understand what kind of data usage you’ll be looking at when you choose Netflix streaming in Standard Definition.
How Much Do You Stream? How Much Data Will It Use?

Every Day 30GB/month
1 HOUR Every Second Day 15GB/month

Twice a Week 8GB/month

Once a Week 4GB/month

Once a Month 1GB/month
How Much Do You Stream? How Much Data Will It Use?

Every Day 90 - 150GB/month
3 - 5
Every Second Day 45 -75GB/month

Twice a Week 24 - 40GB/month

Once a Week 12 - 20GB/month

Once a Month 3 - 5GB/month

Netflix in HD Streaming

When streaming in High Definition, you will be using more GB per hour. An unlimited plan seems like the best idea right off the bat but depending on your usage, you might find better alternatives here. This should help you understand what kind of data usage you’ll be looking at when you choose Netflix streaming in High Definition.

How Much Do You Stream? How Much Data Will It Use?

Every Day 90GB/month
1 HOUR Every Second Day 45GB/month

Twice a Week 24GB/month

Once a Week 12GB/month

Once a Month 3GB/month
How Much Do You Stream? How Much Data Will It Use?

Every Day 270 - 450GB/month
3 - 5
Every Second Day 135 - 225GB/month

Twice a Week 72 - 120GB/month

Once a Week 36 - 60GB/month

Once a Month 9 - 15GB/month

Top: Netflix in High Definition Bottom: Netflix in Standard Definition

Here's an example. Let's say every day after work you stream your favorite show on Netflix for 1 hour. You don't really splurge on much but this show is too good not to watch in HD. Fair enough. So every day, for 1 hour, you're streaming Netflix in HD. That's 90GB of data every month. Not to mention those miscellaneous pieces of data you use when your buddy sends the link to that youtube video with, "OMG. Make sure your headphones are on!" You're compelled to watch the thing. That's more data you are using. You're either going to need an unlimited data plan or learn to be okay with Standard Definition. Read more about the difference between Standard Definition and High Definition now. 

Netflix vs. Everybody

In case you missed it, Netflix announced that for about five years, they’ve been reducing the streaming speeds (known as throttling) for users when they go over their data limit. According to Netflix, this is done to protect Verizon and AT&T customers who would otherwise be hit with overage charges. By reducing the streaming speed, the Netflix subscriber can still stream, albeit with poorer resolution. This helps keep Netflix subscribers loyal to Netflix. Verizon and AT&T weren't happy about it. By the way, Netflix didn't have to worry about this with Sprint or T-Mobile -- these carriers automatically slow streaming speed for customers who hit their data cap.

Since the announcement that absolutely rocked the world of online streaming (not really, but kind of), Netflix is trying to do right by the big four carriers and their customers. Netflix now allows mobile streamers to jump into their account settings right in the Netflix app and choose which streaming experience works best for them. Toggle down your streaming quality if you're nearing your data limit or go full HD if you can afford it. Pretty easy. Go here for specifics on how to adjust your Netflix account from your mobile device.

Zero Data

I won’t get into the FCC and net neutrality side of things but you should know about zero data. Basically, this allows carriers to help you stream as much Netflix as your heart desires without ever touching your data.

If you walk away from this article knowing one thing about how Zero Data works with Netflix, know this:  Of all the major carriers, T-Mobile is the only one that offers Netflix right now without touching your data.

It’s called Binge On and with it, T-Mobile optimizes or compresses the size of your streaming video so that it uses less data. This keeps you off of your own data plan and streaming as free as a bird. Pretty rad. If you have a 3GB data plan or higher with T-Mobile, you’re in. 

AT&T was the first major carrier in the US to get in on zero-rating. They call it their Mobile Share Advantage plan and they basically slow your streaming automatically once you’ve reached your data cap. Verizon’s zero data service is called Go90 and while it is still relatively new, they have managed to get a few big streaming services to participate. The difference here is that it comes in the form of an all-in-one app on your smartphone. The other major difference, especially in writing this piece, is that Netflix hasn’t yet signed on with Go90. Sprint dipped their toes into the zero-rating pool for the Copa America Centenario soccer tournament over the 2016 summer but this ended right after the tournament.

It’s safe to say that between manually making the adjustments to your streaming on your own, your cell carrier capping your data, or Netflix itself getting involved, managing data usage and streaming quality has never been easier. 70% of Netflix users binge-watch so if you fall anywhere near that category, consider your data options wisely.  Keep your eyes peeled for those one off incentives like this one or check out some of the best unlimited data options below. 



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