YouTube is a library of great videos and some bizarre entertainment. Literally millions of videos are uploaded and consumed on a daily basis. This means YouTube is a great place to waste your time—and your data.
The question is: how much data does YouTube actually use? Not as much as, say, Netflix, but definitely close behind. Let’s take a look.
How Much Data Does YouTube Use?
When it comes down to it, the most damaging aspect of data usage comes from the quality you stream YouTube in—whether it’s 144p or 4K, you’ll be using data. The higher the resolution, the more you use.
144p is the lowest YouTube will go, but it’s the worst of the bunch. At 1MB to 1.5MB per minute, streaming YouTube at 144p will come out to around 80MB per hour. With such a low quality, videos are pretty much unwatchable.
While a little better than 144p, 240p isn’t much better. Since it’s a higher quality relative to 144p, naturally, it uses more data. Streaming at 240p will charge you about 3MB to 3.5MB per minute, or around 200MB per hour.
Out of all the smaller resolutions, 360p is watchable. It won’t be pretty, but data usage isn’t too far off from 240p. Streaming at 360p will cost you roughly 5MB per minute, or 300MB per hour.
480p is the best of the lower resolutions, especially on smaller screens. It isn’t very good quality on computers or tablets, but if you had to reduce data usage, 480p is where it’s at. You can expect to use about 8MB to 8.5MB per minute, or 500MB per hour.
Now you’re moving into HD territory, which means a big bump in data usage to go with that high definition. You’ll be using three times the amount of data used when streaming in 480p. For every minute of 720p you enjoy, you use 25MB. For every hour, it’s 1.5GB.
1080p uses twice as much data as 720p. For every minute, 1080p costs you 50MB. For every hour, it’s 3GB.
1440p isn’t far off from 1080p—it’s a nice bump in quality—so at around 90MB per minute, you’re looking at 5.5GB of data used every hour.
As far as quality goes, 4K is the next step up (there’s 8K, but that hasn’t hit mainstream quite yet). And it’s a heavy hitter with streaming about 233MB of data per minute, or around 14GB per hour.
How to Reduce YouTube’s Data Usage
Your phone bill—god help you if you have internet with a data cap—can take a hit if you are constantly browsing YouTube. Sure, a nice, compact 10-minute video will cost you only 100MB, but for someone rolling with, say, a 2GB phone plan, that’s 5% of your data cap gone. How do you reduce data? It comes down to quality and habits.
The major player in this game is quality. As you can see in the previous section, the higher the resolution, the more data that gets used. Ultra-HD, or 4K, is bonkers with up to 14GB of data used in a single hour. And don’t even ask what 8K is like. Hint: an estimated 54GB per hour.
The other player in the game is, well, you. What are your habits like? Let’s say you take the advice and stream YouTube on your smartphone at 480p. That’s not bad, right? That’s a good start, but how long you use it also matters. If you stream in 480p and watch two hours of video, that’s 1GB used. You’ve used half your phone plan if you have a cap of 2GB.
In conclusion, there isn’t a magical method to reduce your data usage while streaming YouTube. It really comes down to the quality it’s streamed in and how often you use YouTube outside of your Wi-Fi. If concern is quality, use YouTube sparingly and only when necessary. On top of that, you can consider bumping your phone plan up to unlimited data. However, keep in mind that unlimited phone plans can come with some pitfalls.