How Much is 1 GB of Shared Data for a Cell Phone?

Updated on May 16, 2013
Shared plans from both AT&T and Verizon Wireless include certain numbers of GBs.
Shared plans from both AT&T and Verizon Wireless include certain numbers of GBs.

1 GB of Shared Data

AT&T and Verizon Wireless recently announced new “share plans” for wireless data services. Under each plan, customers purchase a “data package” containing a limited number of gigabytes (GB) of data. To decide which package to buy, customers must understand this question: How much is 1 GB of shared data for a cell phone?

The New AT&T Share Plans

AT&T is offering six share plans, each with a different amount of shared data per month. The least data you can purchase is 1 GB per month for $40. The price then jumps to $70 for 4 GB, $90 for 6 GB, $120 for 10 GB, $160 for 15 GB, or $200 for 20 GB.

You need to pay extra for each device you “attach” to your shared plan. The cost to attach each smartphone depends on your plan. It costs $45 to attach each smartphone to the 1 GB plan. The cost per smartphone drops to $40 for the 4 GB plan, $35 for the 6 GB plan, or $30 for the 10 GB (or higher) plan. If you have one smartphone, the minimum is $85 ($40 for 1 GB + $45 to attach the phone). For two smartphones, the minimum is $130 (an extra $45 for the second phone).

The cost to “attach” devices other than smartphones to a shared plan depends on the type of device. Basic phones cost $30 each per month. Laptops or netbooks cost $20 each per month. Tablets or gaming devices cost $10 each per month. If your family uses two smartphones, two basic phones, one laptop and one tablet, the minimum cost is $220 ($40 for 1 GB + $90 to attach the smartphones + $60 for the basic phones + $20 for the laptop + $10 for the tablet).

Once you attach multiple devices to your shared data plan, you'll quickly need more than 1 GB of data. Upgrading from the 1 GB to the 4 GB plan will cost $30 more.

Each new share plan offered by AT&T includes unlimited talk and text messaging.

The New Verizon Wireless Share Plans

Verizon Wireless is also offering six share plans. The least data you can purchase is also 1 GB per month, for $50. The cost then jumps to $60 for 2 GB, $70 for 4 GB, $80 for 6 GB, $90 for 8 GB and $100 for 10 GB. Customers can buy even more data at $10 extra for 2 GB more each month.

The additional cost for each smartphone you attach to your shared data plan is a flat $40 per smartphone, regardless of the selected data plan. The cost to attach other types of devices is the same as for the AT&T shared data plans: each non-smart phone or basic feature phone is $30 per month; laptops and netbooks cost $20 per month; and tablets cost $10 per month.

Each new share plan from Verizon includes unlimited talk and text messaging.

Over Data Charges: What if You Use Too Much Data?

AT&T and Verizon Wireless each charges $15 for each GB of data you use beyond your monthly limit. But, as mentioned above, Verizon customers can pay an additional $10 for 2 GB more each month, and can make this purchase if they start nearing their limits to avoid the $15 overage fees.

If you'll share your data plan with teenage children, you may quickly incur significant overage charges. Unless you want data usage to be the primary topic of dinnertime conversation, it's best to buy the right number of databytes. But to do that, you need to know: How much is 1 GB of data?

How Much Is One Gigabyte of Data?

Since each new share plan for wireless data includes a limited number of GBs, customers must understand this question: How much is 1 GB of data? Otherwise, customers will be unable to select the optimum share plan for their needs (including the needs of any family members sharing the plan), and they may choose a share plan with too few GBs. Or, they may select a plan with too many GBs, which will mean paying substantially more money for data they never use.

Unfortunately, cell phone customers aren't used to thinking about how many GBs of data they use. Customers have traditionally kept a close eye on how many talk minutes they use, and have more recently become aware of their texting needs. But since the share plans from both AT&T and Verizon include unlimited talk and texting, the skills that customers have developed in estimating their talk and text usage will not be useful in selecting the share plan that best meets their needs.

Also unfortunately, it is difficult to understand the concept of 1 GB of data. Technically, 1 GB of data is 1024 megabytes, or 1,073,741,824 bytes. These are meaningless to most wireless data customers, as people do not count the bytes of data used by their digital devices. Instead, people care about activities, such as emailing, downloading web pages, surfing the Internet, streaming songs, playing YouTube clips, streaming movies, playing games, or sending photos.

To understand 1 GB of data, it’s necessary to translate wireless activities to the data they consume. Here are translations for common activities:

Data Usage for Common Cell Phone Activities

Data Usage
What Can You Do With 1 GB of Data?
1 email = 10 KB
100,000 emails
Download Web Pages
1 web page = 50 KB
20,000 web page downloads
Surfing the Internet
1 hour surfing = 10 MB
100 hours Internet surfing
Streaming Audio
1 hour streaming = 15 -20 MB
50 - 67 hours audio streaming
Streaming Video
1 hour streaming = 100 - 150 MB
6 - 10 hours video streaming
Playing Online Games
1 hour playing = 10 - 15 MB
67 - 100 hours playing
Communicating Digital Photos
1 JPEG photo = 2 - 3 MB
330 - 500 photos

Emails:One email (excluding attachments) requires about 10 kilobytes (KB) of data. Thus, it would take 100,000 emails to reach 1 GB of data. A typical smartphone user who sends and receives an average of 100 emails per day uses 30 MB of data per month, or just 0.03 GB.

Surfing the Internet: The average web page uses 50 KB of data, assuming average graphics. It would take downloading 20,000 web pages to reach 1 GB of data usage. A person actively surfing the Internet might download 200 web pages in an hour, consuming 10 MB of data. This active surfer would need to surf the Internet for 100 hours to reach 1 GB of data usage. As an example, a smartphone user surfing the Internet for 30 minutes each day would use 0.15 GB per month.

Streaming Audio: A wireless customer streaming radio or other audio content consumes 15 – 20 MB per hour. It would take about 50 - 67 hours of streamed audio to reach 1 GB of data usage. As an example, a user streaming radio for 30 minutes each day would use 0.30 GB per month.

Streaming Video: Video is the heaviest data use, with an hour of streaming video consuming 100 – 150 MB of data! Thus, it would take 6 - 10 hours of streamed video to reach 1 GB of data. As an example, a user streaming video for 30 minutes each day would use at least 1.5 GB per month!

Playing Online Games: Online games consume 10 – 15 MB of data per hour. It would take 67 - 100 hours of online gaming to reach 1 GB of data. As an example, a gamer who plays for 1 hour each day would use at least 0.30 GB of data per month. Heavy gamers can use much more!

Communicating Digital Photos: A high-resolution JPEG photo uses 2 – 3 MB of data. It would take 330 – 500 photos to reach 1 GB of data. As an example, a wireless user who exchanges one high-resolution JPEG photo per day would use at least 0.09 GB of data per month.

AT&T Mobile Share Data Planner

To help its customers, AT&T launched its "Mobile Share Data Planner". Customers input up to 10 devices that will share data, one being a smartphone. Then they estimate monthly data usage for each. To help make these estimations, they select from 0 to 5 GB for each device on a sliding scale, and click on "What can I do with this much data?". The planner then estimates the activities that can be done. For example, for a smartphone with 1 GB data, the estimate says 1000 emails, 200 photo uploads, 500 website visits, 900 minutes of streaming music, and 180 minutes of streaming video.

Verizon Share Everything Calculator

Verizon Wireless also launched a share data calculator, called "Share Everything Calculator". The first step is to enter the number of each type of device you have. Then enter estimates for the total number of minutes used on all devices on your account, the total number of messages sent/received on these devices, and the total amount of data used on these devices. After clicking "See Recommended Plan", the calculator gives a recommendation for the amount of shared data you'll need, and its monthly price. This tool does not, however, provide easy-to-use information about what activities you can expect to accomplish with your estimated amount of data.

Estimate Your Shared Data Plan Needs

To estimate how much wireless data you need in your share plan, start with an estimate of how much streaming video will be done by yourself and anyone sharing your plan. Since it takes less than 10 hours of streamed video to reach 1 GB of data, video streaming alone may be a reason to select a share plan with a larger number of GBs, such as 10 GBs per month. It's also useful to start with video streaming because, if the numbers are simply too large, you can simply decide you cannot afford to stream video—and make sure anyone sharing your plan understands it!

After estimating your streaming video data usage, estimate the amount of audio streaming and online game playing you’ll need each month, as these are the next highest users of data. As with video, you may need to set limits on the amount of these activities you can afford.

Estimating how much Internet surfing will be done is the next thing to look at. There’s little point having a smartphone if you’re not going to do at least some surfing, so don’t be too harsh.

Unless you’re a photography buff, it’s not worth worrying about digital photographs since the data they consume will be small compared to your other activities.

As for emails, don't worry about limiting usage since they only consume 10 KB per email. And you don’t need to worry much about your teenage daughter using too many emails … she’s probably too busy sending and receiving texts … and text messaging is unlimited!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • tipstoretireearly profile image

      tipstoretireearly 5 years ago from New York

      Hi First - Wonderful that you were grandfathered in to an unlimited data plan ... that'll save a lot of math at least until Verizon figures out a way to take that plan away. Thanks for stopping by!

    • First Colony profile image

      First Colony 5 years ago

      This is very informative. Luckily, I was grandfathered into Verizon's unlimited data plan, but I am just waiting for the day when they take that away from me. I know it's coming! I'll be sure to print your chart out when that day comes.