How to check your mobile usage

Submitted by Joe Howell on 9 October 2014 - 2:01pm

Why you should check your mobile usage before buying a new SIM only contract

If you're happy with your existing phone, SIM only can be a lot cheaper than paying as you go or signing up to a new mobile contract. But to get the biggest savings you really need to know how many minutes, texts and MB of data you plan to use. Here's why:

Buying a plan that has more minutes, texts and data than you will ever need might offer some peace of mind, but you'll be paying much more than you need to each and every month.
Buying a plan that doesn't fully cover your usage can be even more costly - as minutes, texts and data above your allowance are charged at eye-wateringly high rates.
So the smart thing to do is to establish what your current maximum usage is, and choose a SIM only plan based on that.

How can you check your mobile usage?

Option 1 - Check your recent bills

If you receive paper bills through the post (remember that most networks charge a premium for this) then thumbing through these is one of the easiest ways to check your usage. You can also view your bill online for free by logging in via the following links:

EE - My Account Orange - My Account T-Mobile - My Account
Three - My3 O2 - My O2 Vodafone - My Vodafone
Virgin Mobile - Your Account Giffgaff - Login Tesco Mobile - My Account

If you haven't already got an online account, creating one is very easy. You'll need your mobile phone number, email address and a couple of bits of personal information like date of birth to confirm your identity. We recommend that you review your bills for the last year in order to get a true feel for your average (and more importantly, your maximum) usage. While it might seem laborious, it will allow you to factor in exceptional months that include things like holidays and special occasions (the sort of things that might tip you over your allowance).

Option 2 - Download an app (only for smart phone users)

Some networks offer handy apps that you can download straight to your phone. They let you check your bill and mobile usage whenever you want, and offer additional features like topping up credit, buying add-ons and details of customer service numbers. Some networks will provide more detailed billing and usage information than others – but here are all of the apps currently available so you can try yours out for yourself:

EE - My EE App Orange - My EE App T-Mobile - My EE App
Three - The Three App O2 - My O2 App Vodafone - My Vodafone App
Virgin Media - My Account App Giffgaff - My Giffgaff App Tesco - Tesco Mobile App

What if you don’t have a reliable usage history or can't find your bill?

You might be completely new to owning a mobile, or you might have been limiting your mobile usage due to budgetary concerns. If you don’t have a reliable usage history or plan to change the way you use your mobile in future then you will need to estimate your usage.

Estimating call usage

This is probably the most important one to get right, because out of bundle charges for calls are particularly expensive. Thankfully it’s also one of the easiest to guage. If you’re expecting your usage to stay the same you can just have a look through your call history for the last month and roughly add up the durations. Round up to the nearest 100 minutes, and look for this in the SIM only plan that you buy. You might be surprised at how few minutes you need, and selecting a realistic allowance can save you a few pounds every month. If you are planning to increase your usage (or you’re new to owning a mobile phone) consider how many times a month you’re likely to use your phone, and what the average duration will be. Come up with a total and again round up to the nearest hundred. 

As a rough guide: Light or occasional users should be fine with a 200 minute plan. If you're a bit more talkative and have the occasional long call then 500 minutes will be plenty. If you're chatting on the phone every day, particularly for extended periods of time then we'd recommend getting at least 800 minutes. Very few people will get good value out of unlimited call plans.

Estimating text usage

Most SIM only plans come with unlimited texts, so you probably don’t need to worry about this. Some of the cheapest plans come with 300 or 500 texts, but even this should be plenty for most people (it's equivalent to 10 or 16 texts a day).

Estimating data usage

Estimating your data usage is probably the trickiest of the three. We quite like EE’s data calculator, as (unlike most on offer) it provides a fairly accurate MB figure without you having to count the number of web pages you visit, emails you receive and videos you watch!  Remember that when at home and at work you're probably connected to WiFi - so only count your usage when you're out and about using mobile data. Most people won't need a huge data allowance, and many networks (EE and Three for example) require you to purchase data add-ons if you go over your allowance. For the mobile addicts among you the thought of being without a data connection might seem scary, but it means that you can't accidentally incur expensive out of bundle charges - so we think it's a good thing.

As a rough guide: If you mostly connect to WiFi but regularly check Facebook and emails and watch the occasional YouTube video while out and about then 500MB should be plenty. If you stream a lot of videos, download apps or you don't have regular WiFi access then 1GB will be more suitable. 2GB+ plans are really for those who do a lot of downloading and streaming , particularly of HD content.

If you’re still unsure about what you need then we’d recommend you go for a 30 day deal. As you aren't tied into a contract it means that you can always move to a bigger or smaller allowance with just 30 days’ notice.

I know how many minutes, texts and MB of data I need. What now?

A good place to start is our handy SIM only comparison tool. It lists all the current deals in the market and lets you filter by the number of minutes, texts and MB of data you need, and then sort by price to find the very best deal. When making a selection don't forget to consider other variables such as coverage level and whether or not you want 4G. For advice about this, read our guide to choosing the right sim only deal.