How much is 5 Gigabytes?

If you use a cellular service for your broadband Internet connection as you travel, you are probably aware of the 5 Gigabyte per month limitation on your usage.

The obvious question, once you’re told that your account has a 5GB/mo limit is, "How much is that?" Well … it’s a lot. Most people we’ve asked tell us that they use less than 2Gigabytes/mo, but then … there was this one guy who was completely unaware. He downloaded movies, watched streaming videos, and participated in peer-to-peer file sharing groups. He got a $2,000 bill that he had to pay.

First let’s check that you understand the measurement. A Byte is one character – the smallest measurable unit. A Kilobyte is roughly 1,000 bytes, a Megabyte is roughly 1,000 Kilobytes and a Gigabyte is roughly 1,000 Megabytes. So 1,500 MB = 1.5 GB, and 5GB = 5,000MB. If you used the same amount of data transfer every day, a 5GB limit for a 30 day month would mean you could use approximately 165MB/day.

Got it? Ok.

Here are some rough estimates of the amount of data that is being transferred during typical Internet activities:

  • Surfing the Internet and looking at web pages with pictures = approx 30 MB / hr
  • Surfing the Internet and watching videos = 100 MB/hr
  • Emailing photos = negligible if you use something like Picasa to resize them first
  • Download of Windows updates = usually <10 MB, but can be over 100 – when you’re least expecting it!
  • Download a full length movie = 2 Gigabytes

5 Gigabytes/month is normally plenty, even for a heavy Internet user. Where it can get problematic is if you use a router to enable two or more people to use the same connection. If two people are using the connection regularly, you need to keep a watch on your usage. Whatever software is managing your connection, should tell you about your usage. If you are using Verizon, you are probably using the software called VZAccess and you can click on the Usage button, or you can log into your account at to see your usage. Here’s a sample screen:

Data usage

At first glance I thought we were *way* under our allotment. I thought the numbers in the right column were totals for each day, but, no. If you look at the first column you’ll see that there are several entries for each day. The important thing is to look at your total and make sure it’s proportionally under 5,000MB.

This is the first month that we have relied on our cellular connection all month. There was just one day when we were in an RV park with good Wi-Fi, and you bet we took advantage! We watched a couple of our favorite online TV shows (The Daily Show with John Stewart!) and we downloaded some humongous Microsoft Updates that we’d been putting off.

We use a tethered cellphone for our Internet connection right now. We have it tethered to a Cradlepoint router so both Jim and I share the connection. So, these statistics are for 2 geeks using one connection. We are at our computers at the very least 2 hours every day (sometimes 12), and we do watch Youtube video clips, we do have to upload and download rather large files.

I’m writing this on June 24, and since the beginning of the month we have used only 2.7GB!

We have been careful. We have not been watching TV shows on the web, or downloading movies, or watching streaming video. We look at our usage stats regularly. Even though 5GB is plenty, it still makes me very nervous to have that limit. But if 2 geeks who are on the computer all the time can stay under the 5G limit, most of you should be fine.

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3 Responses to How much is 5 Gigabytes?

  1. Sherri Davis says:

    I am an old Sprint user and not limited by the 5 GB – are you? I though you had the service last year?

  2. Jill says:

    Thank you for the info! My current internet is too slow (256k) to watch movies on my new Roku/Netflix player. I spoke to Qwest who can offer me Verizon service (3 megs) with 5 gigabytes per month, which they said would be plenty. apparently not. If I understand correctly I would only be able to watch 2 per month plus my regular internet usage….Could have been a costly choice. Thanks again!

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