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Understanding mobile data

What exactly is a megabyte of mobile data? A gigabyte of mobile data? How many emails is that? How many minutes of YouTube video? How many hours of streaming music from the likes of Pandora or Rdio?

A voice minute is easily understood. After all, we all know what a minute is. Ditto for a text message. Data is a little more difficult to quantify, especially for those new to the world of mobile.

First, let us drop some numbers on you. These numbers come directly from an article on mobile data and are compiled from various carrier estimates.

  • 1 Email – text only: 3 KB – 20 KB
  • Email – with photo attachment: 350 KB
  • 1 Web page: 150 KB – 1.5 MB
  • 1 minute of streaming music: 500 KB
  • Social media update with photo: 500 KB
  • Hi-res digital photo upload/download: 1 MB
  • 1 minute of streaming video: 2 MB – 5 MB
  • App/game/song download: 3 MB – 4 MB


For ease of calculation, we’ll say there are 1000 kilobytes (KB) in a megabyte (MB) and 1000 MB in a gigabyte (GB).

These figures are based on using mobile data on your smartphone and don’t take tethering into account. Mobile versions of web sites are designed to be less data heavy than their non-mobile counterparts.

Also, remember that with Ting if you exceed your chosen level of service you’ll be bumped up to the bucket you hit and pay that amount, without penalties or overage charges.

Small – 100 MB

If we say text-only emails average out to 11.5 KB a piece, we can send and receive over 8,500 emails and still stay within our the 100 MB Small bucket. Or, we can visit about 110 web sites in a given month, assuming an average of 900 KB per site. We can can stream 200 minutes while on the mobile network or we can can download 28 apps, games or songs.

Realistically if you’re in range of a Wi-Fi hotspot at home or in the office most of the time and you use mobile data when you’re on the road, it’s not difficult to stay within the 100 MB Small bucket.

Of course, you can always set a usage alert in the Ting dashboard to let you know when you’re nearing the top of your chosen bucket.

Medium – 500 MB

Most Ting customers use the Medium bucket for data. Here, you can use mobile data without much worry; sending and receiving emails, settling bar bets with a quick visit to Wikipedia, sharing social media updates with abandon and downloading the odd application while mobile. By the numbers, 500 MB of mobile data allows for:

  • >40,000 text-only emails sent or received or
  • >550 web pages or
  • 1,000 minutes of streaming music or
  • 500 photos uploaded or downloaded or
  • 140 minutes of streaming video or
  • 140 app downloads

If a family of four, each member with his or her own smartphone, using Wi-Fi for heavy load tasks like streaming video and downloading apps, it’s not difficult to stay within the 500 MB Medium bucket. With Ting alerts in the account control panel, you can set a limit for each device on your account and can even turn off mobile data until the next month if someone blows through their megabyte allowance (that’ll learn ’em!)

Large – 1000 MB (1 gigabyte or GB)

The Large bucket offers 1 gigabyte and means not really having to worry about mobile data. With four devices under a plan, each can use 250 MB. That means 20,000 emails a piece, 500 minutes of streaming music each or more than 250 web pages.
In raw numbers, 1000 MB of data allows for:

  • >80,000 text-only emails sent or received or
  • >1,100 web pages or
  • 2,000 minutes of streaming music or
  • 1,000 photos uploaded or downloaded or
  • 280 minutes of streaming video or
  • 280 app downloads

Again, setting alerts and limits for individual devices or the account as a whole in the Ting dashboard will ensure you don’t exceed your chosen bucket.

XL – 2,100 MB

You’d have to work pretty hard to hit the XL level with a single device. If you’re coming to Ting from an “unlimited” plan from one of the major carriers, taking very simple steps such as connecting to Wi-Fi wherever possible rather than using mobile data will keep you out of these buckets and down in the Small / Medium range instead.

These service levels are more for businesses or large families with many devices under one account sharing in the pooled data.

Beyond XL

If you exceed the XL bucket (2,100 MB or 2.1 GB of mobile data), each megabyte costs ยข1.9 ($0.019 / MB, $19 / GB).