Wireless Service

What Uses Data on a Cell Phone? Everything You Need to Know So You Don’t Go Over

Sara Nuss
October 11, 2022

Having a cell phone can be a blessing and a curse. While they are extremely reliable to have, especially in this day and age because you can be in touch with your loved ones that are only a phone call or a couple taps away, having a cell phone can help you stay in touch, but depending on the provider that you have, it can be very expensive to have a phone.

Cell phones can sometimes cost a lot of money, especially smartphones, but why is this? What most people tend to go over every month on their cell phone bill is their data. Data is the internet that is transmitted over a wireless cellular connection that you can use to be able to scroll through social media, surf the web, and so much more when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi.

The big question that everyone seems to have is what is data and what exactly uses data on a cell phone. These are both very valid things to consider so why not dig deeper into data and how it works! 

In this article we’ll cover topics such as:

  • What is cellular data?
  • What uses data on a cell phone?
  • How to save data every month

What is Cellular Data?

Understand what the data is and how it works to get more familiar with how you’re charged for it every month!

Getting a smartphone comes with a lot of other expenses, such as paying more every month for cellular data depending on what you use. Image courtesy of Silicon UK. 

We’ve been using cellular data for years, pretty much since smartphones came out. It is a way that we are able to surf the web, stay in contact with loved ones through social media, post what we’re doing, and so much more. It’s important to know exactly what cellular data is and how it really works on your cell phone plan, so you can understand why you’re paying as much as you are every month for a set data plan or even an unlimited data plan.

What is cellular data? It’s important to get into the basics and learn exactly what it is and how it works, so let’s get to it!

What is Cellular Data?

Have you ever stopped to really think about what cellular data is and how it works? Let’s understand what it really is first though! Cellular data, or mobile data, is a type of internet that goes through a wireless cellular connection that can give smartphones and tablets the ability to browse the web or scroll through social media when you’re not on Wi-Fi.

Mobile data plans are what give you the ability to use cellular data to do the things that you want to do when you’re not in the comfort of your own home and using your own personal Wi-Fi. When your smartphone or tablet can’t connect to a local Wi-Fi connection, your phone will automatically search for a wireless cellular connection to where your data will be used on your phone plan.

Cellular data can include the following:

  • Web browsing
  • Online gaming
  • Video chatting through FaceTime or Zoom
  • Scrolling through social media
  • Using Google Maps, or another map app
  • Streaming music or videos

How Does Cellular Data Work?

Have you ever thought about how cellular data really works? Once you learn how it works, it’s pretty easy! Whenever you use any type of mobile app or browse the web, you are using cellular data. Whatever device you are using receives and transmits data from the internet so you are able to use it anywhere you go without a stable and local Wi-Fi connection.

Cellular data is included in your phone plan through limited or unlimited plans. Each month you can have a set amount of data that you are allowed to use every month with a limited plan, so if you go over in the set amount of data that you choose, you will be charged extra for how much you go over. For an unlimited data plan, they may be pricier, but you’re able to use as much data as you want to without having to worry about being charged extra.

Cellular Data vs. Wi-Fi Networks

Just for safe measures, it’s important to talk about the difference between cellular data and Wi-Fi networks. The main difference between these two is that cellular data does not connect to a router while Wi-Fi does. A Wi-Fi router typically plugs into a wall and connects to the internet service provider that you pay monthly for. Wi-Fi is most commonly found in everybody’s homes or even in businesses, such as your local coffee shop, hair salon, and more.

A cellular data connection doesn’t connect to any kind of router like Wi-Fi does, which makes it the main difference between the two. You can use cellular data connection anywhere, in places such as in the car, at the store, at the park, and so much more. 

It is important to note that if you’re doing important things, such as making credit card payments, or going into any of your personal accounts using cellular data, they could potentially be hacked into, so it’s important to keep this in mind whenever you’re out and about. 

The only thing about cellular data is depending on your location and how far away you are from a cellular tower, you may not get the best service, or get slower speeds than you would on Wi-Fi, where you can always get the same speeds depending on the type of Wi-Fi plan that you choose for your home. 

What Uses Data on a Cell Phone?

Now that you know a little bit more about cellular data and what it is, what on your cell phone uses it up?

Make sure to know what kinds of apps and more will use up your cellular data on your cell phone to keep in mind when you’re not using Wi-Fi. Image courtesy of Money. 

Using your cell phone whenever you’re out and about can cause you to use data whether you realize it or not. You may have a set amount of data that you use each month and you could be afraid to go over, and be charged more money than necessary. 

Whether you’re leaving apps that use data open whenever you’re out and about, or even just texting a lot can cause you to use more data, so it’s important to know exactly what uses data on your cell phone. 

Get to know more about specific things that you do on your phone, including apps that can use up your data, and more to avoid going over every month!

Social Media Apps

There are a ton of things that can cause you to go over in your data every month and one of them is social media. Social media apps can easily cause you to go over your data every month because a lot of them have features where they play videos, and streaming any kind of videos can easily eat away at your data.

You may be wondering what social media apps use a lot of your data, and it’s pretty much all of them, but the big three include Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There is a way to go in the settings to turn off auto-playing on videos and to use less data on all of these apps, so this is recommended if you’re trying to save your data every month. 


While Snapchat can be considered a form of social media, let’s keep it separate since for many, it’s a way to stay in touch with friends and family. Snapchat eats up a lot of data every month, especially if you leave it running in the background even when your phone is in your pocket.

For Snapchat, there is a feature where you can put it in Travel Mode to reduce the app’s data usage. Instead of your snaps automatically being able to load all the time, with Travel Mode, you have to tap your snaps to have them load whenever you’re ready to view them. 

Music Streaming Apps

Are you someone who pays a subscription every month for a streaming service so you can listen to music whenever and wherever you want? Well, as convenient as this is, streaming music can use up a lot of data over time and very quickly too, but luckily there are many features that can help reduce the amount of data you use every month.

For a lot of streaming apps, such as Spotify for example, there are a lot of different things that you can do to save data every month. You are able to download music for offline listening, such as albums and playlists so you’re able to listen to them without using data, or using as much data, which is a feature that comes in handy for avid music listeners. 

iMessaging for iPhones

While many people think that texting doesn’t use data, for many iPhone owners, this is actually the opposite. iMessaging is a feature that Apple smartphones offer between one another where you’re able to see when someone reads your message, when your message is delivered, and be able to send games, Bitmoji, and more back and forth.

iMessaging is known for using cellular data, or using an internet connection if you don’t have a data plan. If you don’t have a data plan, if you’re out and about in public, you will just be able to use the text messaging feature. You can also turn off iMessaging to avoid going over your data every month as well. 


There are a lot of apps that use a lot of data whenever you’re out and about and one that uses a significant amount of data is YouTube. Streaming videos, although convenient with a data plan, can use a lot of excess data, especially if you have a set data plan every month that you don’t want to go over. 

YouTube is known for using a lot of data whenever you’re watching videos when you’re out and about. For example, YouTube uses 562.5MB of data per hour whenever you’re streaming a video at 480p, which can use up your data in no time. There are different settings that you can take advantage of to avoid going over and you can adjust everything in the settings. 

Google Maps or Any Other Maps App

There are a ton of different apps that use a lot of your data, but one that will eat up your data like no other is Google Maps, or any other app that you wish to use that uses maps. You could be traveling long distances, or even somewhere close by and not sure exactly where you’re going and using an app to get from one place to the other is so much easier than trying to print out directions somewhere, old school-style.

To put it into perspective, Google Maps uses about three to five MBs of data every hour that you are using the app and depending on how far you are traveling, it can use up a couple GBs of your data. This can be a struggle for people who travel a lot, so in this instance, sometimes an unlimited data plan is handy, or just to make sure that you are using less data on other apps you normally use. 

Checking Email

Something as simple as checking your email also uses data, and while it might not be a lot of data that it uses, if you leave the app open or are just constantly on the app whenever you’re out and about, it can use a lot of data.

Checking your email and sending or receiving over 100 emails a day for example only uses about 0.3GB a month, which when you think about it, really isn’t a whole lot, but there are different measures you can take to save your data, such as waiting to get home and use a Wi-Fi connection to read and send any emails that you need to. 

How to Save Data Every Month

It’s important to think about how you can potentially save data every month now that you know the apps that use the most of it!

Saving money every month is important, especially on your data plan to avoid going over, so why not learn how to save data! Image courtesy of Inc. Magazine. 

Now that you know what apps and features on your smartphone use data every month, it’s important to consider how to save data every month. This is useful especially for people who have a limited data plan so they can avoid going over their plan and being charged extra fines and more.

Are you wondering what some easy tips and tricks are to save data on your phone every month? Here is what we have to offer!

Connect to Wi-Fi Whenever Possible

One of the easiest and simplest ways to conserve your data every month is by connecting to Wi-Fi whenever it’s possible. Connecting to Wi-Fi doesn’t use any cellular data whatsoever, and you can connect to Wi-Fi from your own internet connection that you pay monthly for, or you can even connect to Wi-Fi from your local coffee shop or business whenever you’re out and about. 

Update Apps Using Wi-Fi Only

There is a feature on many phones where if there’s a new update for any apps that you have downloaded on your phone, your phone will automatically update them whether you’re on Wi-Fi or not. This can use up your data very fast, so it is important to turn this feature off and only download any updates on your apps whenever you’re at home using your own Wi-Fi to avoid using or going over your data. 

Upgrade Your Data Plan

For many people, going over their data plan is just a regular thing, so to avoid being charged more per GB that you use, why not just upgrade your data plan! While many people may be on the fence about upgrading their data plan, sometimes it can help you save money without paying extra GB that you go over. 

Checking out what really uses data on your phone is key to know just how much data you should have every month on your phone plan, and to also know how to save data every month. 

Getting to know what exactly classifies cellular data, knowing what will use your data on your cell phone, and knowing how to save data every month is important, make sure you know what your cell phone can do with data right away!

Sara Nuss
Sara Nuss is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in wireless, dewi, phone plan advice & blockchain.