Data usage arrow.

The holy grail of cellular plans is unlimited data. Everyone wants to be able to stream and download without worrying about going over limits. Do you actually need unlimited data, though? Here are some things to consider.

Unlimited Isn’t Always Unlimited

First, you should know that most “unlimited” data plans are not truly unlimited. The amount of data you can use is unlimited, but the data speeds—and sometimes even video quality—are limited.

Carriers can call the plans “unlimited” because they’re not technically putting a cap on exactly how much data you can use. In reality, though, they are limiting your data in another way. Slowing down your data after you pass a certain threshold absolutely does limit how much data you can feasibly use.

Truly unlimited data plans do exist; they’re just not as affordable or as easy to find. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be talking about all unlimited data plans.

How Much Data Do You Use?

android data usage hero image

Do you use enough data to make an unlimited plan worth it? That might seem like an obvious question, but many people have no idea how much data they use. According to U.S. cellular carriers, the average customer uses less than 6GB per month.

Why is that important? As mentioned above, “unlimited” data plans often have caps on how much high-speed data you can use. That cap is usually around 20-25GB, which is much more than the average person is using. You probably won’t hit the cap, but you’re also paying for more than you need.

Thankfully, iPhones and Android phones make it pretty easy to track your data usage. Both platforms have tools for monitoring your data usage and reducing it. This is the most important thing you can do to find out how much data you need.

RELATED: How to Track Your Data Usage on Android

Wi-Fi Is Your Friend

Wi-Fi sign in a hotel room
ymgerman / Shutterstock.com

When smartphones were first hitting the mainstream, unlimited data plans were much more affordable and common. This was good because Wi-Fi was not as widely available as it is today, so people were using more data away from home.

Nowadays, Wi-Fi is much more prevalent. Free Wi-Fi is available in many public places, such as coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and parks. If you take advantage of these networks, you can stay off data most of the time.

Of course, this depends on your daily life. Maybe you have a job that moves around a lot, making Wi-Fi networks difficult to use. Or perhaps you don’t feel safe using public Wi-Fi. It’s not an option for everyone.

RELATED: How to Reveal a Public Wi-Fi Login Page

You Probably Don’t Need Unlimited Data

The truth is most people don’t need “unlimited” or unlimited data plans. The average person uses less than 6GB of data per month, which means a lot of people are using far less than that.

Of course, you could also be one of the people using far more than 6GB of data. Maybe Wi-Fi in your area is non-existent and mobile data is your primary means of using the internet. In that case, an unlimited plan may be worth it.

It’s certainly nice to have no concern about how much data you’re using—and if you can justify the cost, go ahead—but most people are wasting money on unlimited data. Learn your habits, use the tools at your disposal to reduce data usage, and you’ll see exactly how much data you need.

RELATED: How to Stop Android Apps from Using Background Mobile Data

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as a News Editor at XDA Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
Read Full Bio »