Fat Pipes: How Data Usage Affects your Broadband Plan

Fat Pipes: What Your Data Usage Means for Your Broadband Plan

broadband plan by data usage
There are many everyday online things that use a lot of data. Photo: Shutterstock

Once upon a time your internet connection was something you used to only check emails and browse Facebook – these days it’s likely you’re going to be using the internet for a huge variety of different tasks. Maybe you’re a TV and movie fan who’s discovered Netflix and spends evenings binge-watching shows. Or an avid gamer who likes to keep up with the latest releases. Or a YouTube video creator sharing your latest creations with the world. There are many everyday online things that use a lot of data.

The growing size of downloads

Even a few short years ago, most people would have been quite happy with a broadband plan with a modest download allowance – after all, 50GB sounds like a hell of a lot of downloading to do in a month, so surely it should be enough, right? But gradually, as more and more of the entertainment and working world moves towards connected services and cloud storage, those downloads start to add up really fast. The arrival of Netflix and other streaming services has probably driven that point home more than anything else, with a single episode of a TV series in HD using as much as 3GB of your data allowance in one go.

Most ISPs these days don’t charge you extra when you go over your limit – instead, they slow down your connection for the rest of the month, in some cases to such an extent it’s impossible to do anything more demanding than view web sites. So you’ll want to take a look at what you use the internet for, and make sure you’ve got a plan with a download allowance to match. Let’s take a look at some common scenarios.

The Gamer

Video games are more popular now than they’ve ever been, and with the arrival of “next generation” game consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One, games have never been more reliant on having a generous download allowance. Whether you’re playing on a console or on PC, that game disc you buy doesn’t contain the final version of the game. When you start it up, you’re usually prompted to allow the game to update to the latest version, and that update is often measured in tens of gigabytes. It’s become a fact of life with games these days; you’ll be downloading updates (and in some cases the entire game) all the time. If you spend any length of time with your games – even if you don’t play online multiplayer ones – you will want to make sure that your broadband plan gives you plenty of breathing room.

large streaming
Stream a lot of shows? Welome to the club! Photo: Shutterstock

The Streaming Video Fan

Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime Video have been a revelation for TV and movie fans, offering a vast range of commercial-free, high-definition entertainment on demand for a relatively tiny monthly fee. But this vast choice and instant gratification comes at a potentially huge data cost. If you were to spend a lazy Saturday binge-watching a season of The Blacklist on Netflix on your big-screen TV, in the background Netflix is quickly chomping away at your download allowance. That 22-episode season would have used over 50GB in HD and – if you’re lucky enough to have a 4k-capable TV – a staggering 120GB or more. If you sit down in front of the TV and stream movies and shows most nights, that 500GB/month plan may not be enough to see you through.

The Creator and the Cloud

You’re a big fan of your iPhone, and you use its camera everywhere you go to snap photos of your friends, lots of selfies, and tons of videos – and when you get home you make sure everyone can see them by uploading them all to Facebook, Tumblr or YouTube. Digital cameras are great at getting photos and videos down to a manageable file size, but the megabytes add up quickly – and while many think of a data allowance as a download allowance, uploads are counted as well, and they can add up quickly. When choosing a broadband plan based on your usage, remember to take account of how much you upload. That’s especially important for those who use one of the popular cloud services – iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive – to archive all their stuff. A cloud service that gives you a huge 1TB of space (like the OneDrive account that comes with Office 365) will in turn cost you 1TB of your data allowance to fill up!! Be sure to take both downloads and uploads into account.

family internet usage
If you have a big family, unlimited data may be the way to go. Photo: Shutterstock

The Family

If your home internet is going to be shared by several people, you’d be surprised how quickly that can mess up your guess at what your monthly usage might be. With everyone using their phones, tablets and laptops via wi-fi, all of the possible drains on your data allowance start multiplying. That’s especially the case with families, where internet-savvy teenagers can consume gigabytes as fast as your broadband speed allows. If there’s a lot of net-enabled devices in your family or household, the best option is very likely to be one of the unlimited Data Plans on offer.

Avoid surprises

Even if the concept of gigabytes and terabytes sounds like another language to you, it’s important to get some idea of just how much data you’re actually going to be using each month, and then choose a broadband plan that allows you some breathing room. There’s a lot of choice and some really great value to be had with broadband plans these days, so don’t settle for a plan that forces you to constantly keep an eye on your data usage. The internet and all it has to offer is so much more rewarding when you can use it without worrying. Check out our broadband comparison for the latest deals!

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