Binging on Netflix had become a national pastime long before Covid confined us to our homes for large chunks of 2020.

And for most people, at least in the UK, there's no cap on broadband usage. I'm willing to bet that most people have no clue how much data they use each month on their home broadband.

But it's a different story for mobile data which isn't unlimited unless you're paying a considerable amount each month. And if you watch Netflix using mobile data you’ll quickly hit your data limit if you spend too much time consuming the entire back catalogue of Star Trek or enjoying the short-lived splendour of Glow?

We break down how much data you’ll use when streaming content from Netflix.

Which Netflix plan are you on?

The quality of the video you can stream is linked to the plan you pay for, as some offer higher resolutions that others. At the time of writing, these were the available plans;

  • Basic – Allows content in SD quality (1 device streaming at a time)
  • Standard – Allows content up to 1080p (2 devices streaming at a time)
  • Premium – Allow content up to 4K (4 devices streaming at a time)

For more details on the benefits of these tiers, read which Netflix plan is right for you?

How much data does each streaming resolution use?

Netflix helpfully outlines how much data the different resolutions use. Here’s how they break down:

  • SD – 0.7GB per hour
  • HD – up to 3GB per hour
  • UHD/4K – 7GB per hour

There’s also a ‘Low’ option for when your connection is limited, which uses 0.3GB per hour, but we can’t imagine that this is much fun to watch on anything other than a small smartphone display.

Of course, you’ll need to do some maths to work out how much data your normal viewing habits will use. For example, if you watch a two-hour movie in HD, then you’ll have used up around 6GB of data, while the same in SD will be 1.4GB. But, and this is important, with the all the plans above the Basic tier you’ll also need to factor in anything that other members of your household are watching.

So, if you watch your two-hour movie in HD, using 6GB, but your partner also spends an hour and half catching up on their favourite HD TV show, then you’ll have used 10.5GB over the two-hour period (6GB + 4.5GB).

This gets even more complicated when you try and work out the viewing habits of everyone on the Premium tier, as this requires knowing what four people watched.

How can I make sure I don’t use too much data on Netflix?

If you’re worried that you might go over your monthly data plan, then there are a few options. First, when at home, turn off mobile data on your phone to ensure you can't accidentally eat through your allowance if you stray too far from Wi-Fi coverage.

Download content to watch offline 

Second, you can download movies and shows over Wi-Fi, then watch them when it suits you without using any mobile data. For a step-by-step guide to the process, read how to download Netflix.

Change the streaming quality settings on Netflix

Another is to change the default streaming quality on your Netflix account. To do this, open Netflix in your web browser and log into your account. Once you’ve selected your profile, click on the profile icon in the top right corner of the screen. From the drop-down menu, choose Account.

How much data does Netflix use: Accessing account

In the Profile & Parental Control section, click on your profile (or any other you want to limit), then select the Change option next to Playback settings.  

How much data does Netflix use: Playback setting

You’ll now be presented with a list of the various streaming qualities, so click the one that you want to use, then click Save to finish the process.

How much data does Netflix use: Streaming quality

Obviously, you can return to this menu at any time and change the quality once more.

Change your broadband or mobile supplier

If your broadband does have a data cap, then you might want to consider moving to an unlimited plan as this will allow you to enjoy whichever content you like, whenever you like, and in the quality that you prefer. To see what offers are currently around, take a look at best broadband for streaming and best phone network