why do we consume so much internet data?

Why Do We Consume More Mobile Data These Days?

Interested in knowing what eats up your mobile data bundle these days? Read on to find out.

“I just bought this bundle yesterday. How has it finished?’’ is now a common question among the millions of smartphone users in Nigeria today. While there have been tons of smartphone upgrades recently – better refresh rates, improved connectivity, alongside a plethora of enhancements – they seem to tag along an increasingly significant problem: rapid data consumption. With the alarming rates at which we use data bundles, it’s rather pertinent to know the cause.

There are several reasons why your smartphone consumes more mobile data these days. You could either be using social media platforms a lot, streaming HD content regularly, turning on your hotspot for others to use, or having apps eating up data in the background. Furthermore, with the advent of super quick 4G and 5G internet connectivity, we burn data bundles faster than ever.

Want a deeper dive into the reasons why we use more data? If, like me, you’re meticulous about optimizing mobile data costs, read on to see how to manage data bundles better, as I discuss them in detail in this article.

Understanding Data Consumption

Undoubtedly, we have consumed more data in recent times. Since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve recorded unprecedented data usage levels. As of March 2020, year-on-year data consumption in the United States was up by 75%, and monthly data usage soared by 27%.

And in Nigeria, it’s a more stunning statistic. The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, estimates that Nigerians cumulatively used up over 350,000 terabytes of data in 2021, as opposed to the 68,154 terabytes used in 2018 — a 413.79% increase! That we only use broadband less than 50 percent of the time means that Nigerians use a lot of mobile data.

And considering that people found themselves stuck at home due to lockdown restrictions, using the internet to distract themselves from the depressing infection statistics making rounds on the news, these numbers may not be surprising. In addition, video conferencing services saw huge increments in usage as families separated by travel bans required these means to connect, and workers communicated with employers and colleagues over video.

Nonetheless, with these restrictions lifted, we still haven’t returned to previous data consumption levels. So, what exactly is eating up our data bundles? Well, the following are the common culprits behind increased data consumption:

  • Video calls
  • Media streaming
  • Social Media
  • Embedded media on websites
  • Background data consumption.
  • Online Video Gaming

Let’s talk about these below.

Video Calls

Video Calls tend to consume a lot of data. AT&T estimates that one hour of video conferencing uses almost half a gigabyte of data. During video calls, both parties send and receive audio and video feed, which are data-reliant.

The clearer video and audio are during video calls, the more data is used. That you cannot tone down the quality of video feed you receive during video calls on most video conferencing services makes it difficult to curb the amount of data they consume.

Media Streaming

Audio and video streaming constitute why we use a lot of data these days. Recently, video streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime have had a surge in content streaming, equating to a commensurate data consumption level. On average, each Netflix user consumes about 288GB of data per month, a similar metric for most other video streaming platforms.

On the other hand, audio streaming services use relatively less data, but still a significant amount. Each hour of normal standard audio streaming on music platforms like Apple Music and Spotify averages about 30MB. Even though this may seem small, over time, this can sap your data bundle significantly.

Social Media

Undoubtedly, social media is one of the brazen data bandits today. Video-centric social media platforms like YouTube and TikTok consume significantly more data than other social media platforms. Nonetheless, with the paradigm shift the internet is currently undergoing, it’s only a matter of time, and a short one for that matter, before other platforms catch up.

With short, high-definition video content gaining mainstream popularity on social media, gone are the days when mere megabytes were enough for these applications. Media-centric platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok dominate the market, so traditional, text-based platforms like Facebook and Twitter have no other option than to rise to the challenge.

Uploading and consuming content on these websites contribute to the majority of what consumes data on social media. WhatsApp, for instance, has default auto-download settings that automatically save every image and video file, including those you haven’t opened yet in group chats. And viewing dozens of statuses, stories, and posts with videos and images does take a toll on your data usage in the long run.

Embedded Media on Websites

Studies show that content with gifs and images tends to keep users hooked rather than strings of paragraphs that are unpunctuated by colorful imagery. So, blog owners have no option but to up their game and embed media into their content.

Most web pages require about 3MB to load. However, this amount can vary significantly when containing media elements like videos and images. A reasonable number of websites have video animations welcoming users; as expected, these things suck up data like a plague.

Background Data Consumption

Your smartphone is a thing of beauty. But it can be a pain when apps begin to use data in the background. Many applications do this, especially those that send live notifications and social media applications.

While background data consumption isn’t nearly as active, it can accumulate in alarming amounts. So, if you don’t rectify it, you’re in for a surprise when your data bundle finishes.

Online Video Gaming

Video gaming constitutes a major reason why we spend so much on data. If you’re a devout gamer, you shouldn’t be surprised about how much mobile data you use monthly. Typically, most online games use between 20 to 300MB per hour, drastically increasing when you stream live matches while playing.

Some games, such as Call of Duty Mobile, use a lot of data when downloading utilities such as maps and other in-game assets. The frequency of these updates varies from game to game, but they can use up gigabytes when they occur.

How To Cut Down Data Usage

Mobile data costs can make your wallet bleed, so it’s imperative to address the problem of excessive data consumption as soon as possible. Let’s discuss ways to manage your data usage and keep your internet budget in check.

Check How Much Data You Use

The first step to rectifying excessive data consumption is assessing how much data you use on your smartphone. It’s a pretty straightforward process on Android and iOS devices.

On Android, clicking the ‘Network and Internet option, usually atop the ‘Settings’ menu, shows a submenu with a data usage option to select. You can see how much data your cellphone uses and which apps use the most data.

For iOS devices, there’s a ‘Cellular and Settings’ submenu in ‘Settings’ where you can access your iPhone’s data consumption.

Turn Off Background Data

Background data usage is a silent killer, so rectifying this problem is a great way to reduce data consumption. Once you identify the apps using the most data on your smartphone, disallow their background data usage.

Go Lite!

If there is a lite version of any data-consuming application you use, discard the full version and install it. Lite versions of apps use less data and have fewer media content and animations.

Furthermore, popular browsers like Opera Mini have lite modes that help users to optimize webpages. By blocking video ads and not pre-downloading media content, your browser can help you cut down on data usage.

Stream Lower Quality Content

Video streaming services take up a lot of data when you stream in high-definition quality. If you cannot cut down the content you watch regularly, it’s best to stream at standard definition, 480p, or lower. Most streaming services like Netflix have this option, so configuring the video quality of what you watch shouldn’t be a problem.

The same goes for YouTube and other video streaming social media websites. While audio streaming doesn’t consume as much data, the amount it takes up over time can be mind-blowing. On music platforms like Spotify, change the audio quality settings to normal instead of high.

Turn off Autoplay on Streaming Services and Social Media

Autoplay is usually a default setting in most video streaming applications. This setting causes a recommended video to play right after you finish watching the video you selected at first. Since it’s beyond your control initially, several megabytes would have gone into pre-downloading parts of the video before you watch it.

Turn this setting off on your streaming platforms and social media. Luckily, it’s often given as a prompt when watching content, so it’s an easy thing to do.

Reduce Gaming Time

Reducing game time is perhaps the most difficult instruction for devout gamers. If you want to reduce data consumption, you must, nonetheless. But if you cannot sacrifice precious gaming time for anything, another data-draining application must go down the drain.

Bonus Tip – Save Your Hotspot Only for Emergencies

Turning on your Hotspot for others makes your mobile data a wifi source for whoever connects. And smartphones and their applications are configured to use the most data on syncing, backing up, and downloading high-quality content without restraints when connected to wifi. So, if you must turn on Hotspot for a friend, make sure it is brief.

However, if your phone is the wifi source for your PC, ensure that it’s set as a metered connection to avoid losing a lot of data to background processes.

Will We Use More Data In The Future?

With the rate at which we consume data these days, all indications point to us consuming more data in the future. The increasing number of online services such as gaming, streaming, and other online services contributes to factors that may make us consume more data in the future.

Furthermore, online financial activities such as forex trade contribute significantly to the global economy. With digital banking becoming more popular these days, we’ll only become more dependent on the internet. And beginning a discussion on how blockchain technology and Web3 will certainly increase data consumption will take up the entirety of an article.

So, with recent statistics depicting increased data usage in the future, it’s best to brace for it.

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