Streaming Music and Videos on the iPad: How Much Bandwidth Does it Really Use?

Data for the iPad is expensive, with U.S. carriers AT&T and Verizon offering limited amounts of data at a high price. 250MB on AT&T will cost $14.99, while 3GB costs $30. Prices are slightly better with Verizon’s shared data plans, with 4GB for $30. Neither carrier offers an unlimited plan at this point in time.

Thirty dollars isn’t exactly chump change, especially when you factor in the cost of the 4G iPad, which is at minimum, $129 more expensive than its Wi-Fi counterpart. With LTE you can blow through data at alarming speeds, especially when using streaming video or music apps, which have become extremely popular.

Apps like Pandora, Spotify, Netflix, and Hulu all use streaming data, which can quickly eat away at those precious gigabytes. So just how much data are these apps using?

I took a look at both Netflix and Pandora, measuring how much data I used for an hour of video watching and an hour of streaming music.

Video watching on Netflix averaged about 335 MB per hour, while listening to music on Pandora used up approximately 54MB an hour.

At that rate, I could watch about nine hours of video on my iPad or listen to 56 hours of streaming music before eating through my allotted 3GB of data per month. As a heavy video watcher, that’s not a lot of content for the price, and at 56 hours of music per month, I can only listen to less than two hours of music on a daily basis.

If you listen to music and watch videos, expect to cut those numbers in half. That’s not even taking into account any emails or web browsing, which also eats up data, albeit in much smaller amounts.

Of course, at home and work you can often connect to Wi-Fi, which won’t use up your data. Still, if you often use the iPad as an entertainment device, watching at odd moments or using it in the car with the kids, you can come dangerously close to your data limits in a short amount of time.

Want to check your own app data usage? In the settings menu of your iPad, navigate to the general section. From there, select “Usage,” and then “Cellular Usage.” Reset the counter, use your favorite app, and check the counter again to see how much bandwidth you used.

Are you surprised at how much data streaming music and video apps use? I know I was. How do you use your data, and do you come close to your data cap? Let us know in the comments.

About Juli: Contact me via Twitter: @julipuli

  • jayray78

    Actually no. 700 mb for a movie sounds about right for DVD quality. Conversely though, I thought Netflix was supposed to have some kind of compression that would cut down on the data rates. Were you streaming HD content or SD?

    • Juli Clover

      It was standard definition. I think they scale it down automatically, like you said.

  • Clark Anderson

    I stream to my iPad inside my home network with DLNA technology. I use ArkMC application.
    I think that streaming bandwidth depends on what are you streaming!
    If you stream MP3 – is almost none!