When the telephone was first invented in the mid-1870′s, mankind was introduced to one of the most revolutionary devices yet invented. Hearing a person’s voice, as opposed to simply reading words written in a letter, gave people a much higher degree of personalization when communicating with people over long distances. When the first cellphones were made commercially available over 100 years later, this experience was improved even further, by allowing people to talk to each other no matter where they may be. No longer was a person required to sit by the phone in order to make sure they did not miss that important call.

The 1990′s would see a leap forward in cellphone technology, combining the classic usage as a telephone with the capabilities to perform some functions related to a computer. Early smartphones, such as the Simon Personal Communicator, made available to the public in 1994, were able to send and receive faxes and emails, play games and write on an electric notepad. As smartphones, as they would come to be called, advanced in sophistication more and more features were introduced. Operating systems designed specifically for use on a smartphone were developed. This would culminate in the smartphones available today, which resemble a computer as much as they do a cellphone in terms of functionality.

In the early days of smartphones data usage was relatively low. Since the most common use for early smartphones was still calling or sending and receiving emails, the amount of data the phone needed to transfer was minimal. As more and more smartphones became able to access the internet, data usage began to steadily climb. In recent years, the amount of data being used by smartphone owners has exploded. The last three years alone have seen the average amount of data used on a monthly basis double each year!

In order to ensure that you don’t end up either needing more available data transfer, or end up paying for more than you use, it is important to understand how much data different smartphone activities use up. Once you have a basic understanding of this, it is easy to apply it to how much of each activity you do each month. This will give you a relatively accurate estimate on which type of data plan you should purchase.

Calls and Text Messages

Regardless of the fact that smartphones have incorporated many of the features you would find on a computer, making calls and sending texts are still ranked as the most popular uses for them. A study shows that Americans alone spend approximately three TRILLION minutes talking on their cellphones per year! SMS, or text messaging, came in second with Americans sending over one and a half trillion per year.

Fortunately for cellphone and smartphone users, calls themselves do not count towards your data usage cap. Instead, most plans allow a set amount of minutes per month that can be used talking on the phone. Some plans even offer unlimited minutes any time or at certain times of the day or night. Text messages do count towards your data usage limit. However, each text message only uses an average 150 bytes per text message. Compared to some of the other popular uses, such as surfing the internet or watching movies, this is miniscule.

Bottom line is if you only plan to use your smartphone for calling and texting, you can most likely get away with purchasing the most inexpensive plans available.

Surfing the Internet

The next most popular usage for a smartphone is surfing the internet. Studies show that roughly 84 percent of smartphone users surf the internet on a regular basis. It is a little more difficult to calculate exactly how much data is used by surfing the internet. This is due to the fact that different webpages transfer different amounts of data in order to show up on your smartphone screen. For instance, accessing a page that is text only transfers a much smaller amount of data than one full of pictures. Pictures, graphics and video are all made up of a much larger amount of data than mere text.

While all pages are not created equal, on average you can expect to use about 400kb of data per page that you visit. Even though this figures to a much higher data usage rate than texting, if you only use the internet periodically, you can usually get away with buying a plan on the lower end of the spectrum.

Streaming and Downloading Music

This type of activity is where you start to get into higher data usage rates. Streaming audio to your smartphone uses up about 1mb of data every minute. Downloading music is even more costly, with a  three and a half minute song eating up around 7mb per data. As you can see, this transfer rate can add up quickly if it is done on a regular basis.

Streaming Video

Streaming video is by far the most costly in terms of data transfer. On a 3G smartphone, one hour’s worth of  video will take up a whopping 250mb of data transfer. On one of the newer 4G phones, this hour would take up around 350mb. If you are a YouTube or Netflix junkie, expect to spend the money for the highest-tier plans.

As you can see, how much data you use per month is highly subjective and based entirely on what you use the smartphone for. To help you personalize your potential data use every month, there is a handy data calculator found at http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/splash/datacalculator.jsp. With this calculator you can enter different values based on your projected usage, which should give you a general estimate of how much data you will need.