Q. Some of us in the boonies must rely entirely on cellular Wi-Fi hot spots. As a result, data usage is a very important consideration, as each gigabyte must be paid for. Fortunately, we have 4G speed, but how much data do services like Instagram or Spotify use? How can one tell how much a YouTube video will consume? Obviously, one can go to a free Wi-Fi locale to see some content, but there are the security issues.
A. The amount of data consumed by sharing and streaming photos, audio and video varies with the quality and size of the files, but quick estimates from a data calculator (like the ones on the AT&T or Verizon Wireless sites) offer a rough idea. Your cellular provider may have its own measures. Nationally, both AT&T and Verizon Wireless estimate uploading a good-quality photo to a social media site like Instagram uses 5 megabytes of data. In comparison, streaming video can chew up 500 to 700 megabytes of data an hour — and that is for files in the lowest “standard definition” picture quality.
Data usage for streaming music depends on the audio fidelity and service, but plan to use at least 51 megabytes an hour. Spotify, the popular streaming music service, can consume a lot of data at the default settings for its mobile and desktop apps, but you can save megabytes by lowering the audio quality of the stream. For instance, switching to “normal” from the “high” quality setting in the mobile app can save you around 30 megabytes per hour of listening time.
Spotify’s help guide has some suggestions for reducing your data consumption when using the service. If you have a paid Premium account, downloading the files for listening offline saves bandwidth because you are not streaming them repeatedly to replay the music. Closing other internet-connected applications or switching from the dedicated app to the browser-based Spotify player can also reduce data needs.
Using web browsers that compress images and mobile devices with data-saver settings (like Google Chrome or Opera) are among the other ways you can minimize your monthly megabyte consumption.
Being wary of security on public Wi-Fi networks is wise. If you use one, connecting through a virtual private network (V.P.N.) can help keep your personal data more secure, although it is still generally safer to keep financial and personal-identification information on your home connection.
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