With LTE (4G) smartphones becoming more common, one of the questions I often hear is "how much LTE data do I really need?" It may be a bit more than you anticipated.

First, what is LTE and how is it different from 3G? LTE, short for "Long-Term Evolution" is the latest standard for high-speed wireless data. Increasing the capacity and speed using a different cellular radio allowed for network improvements over 3G technology.

In my previous article on cellular data, I analyzed my data usage on my 3G iPhone 4 and concluded that I rarely ever used more than 1GB of data per month. So when I switched my family over to a shared 4GB plan with multiple LTE iPhones, I was pretty confident we would always exist safely under the cap.

When the first few bills arrived, I was quite surprised.

Several different tech blogs have run independent tests on Verizon's LTE data usage and come up with a surprising statistic: LTE users consume, on average, 36%* more data than 3G users.

Here's the most startling result from AppAdvice.com:

Screencap from AppAdvice.com
Screencap from AppAdvice.com

Apps, even under normal conditions, used more data on LTE. Pandora wasn't bad, but Netflix is a data hog. Data usage almost tripled on LTE.

Different tech blogs also found that because LTE was faster and more reliable, users were more likely to surf to more pages than before and when streaming music from iCloud, Apple sent higher quality songs over LTE requiring more bandwidth.

Something to note: I've also noticed that the Wi-Fi antenna isn't as powerful in the iPhone 5. Standing in the same places outside the Radio Ranch that I used to be able to catch the station's Wi-Fi on my iPhone 4, I can't reach it on my iPhone 5. I'm not sure if they had to make sacrifices to the antennas in the iPhone 5 to make it that slim, or if the aluminum body interferes in a way that the glass and steel body of the iPhone 4 never did, but there is a significant difference.

No matter what you're doing on an LTE phone, it's going to use more data. On 3G I rarely ever used 1GB of data. With my iPhone 5 I average between 1.5GB to 2GB a month.

If you're planning on switching to an LTE phone, or recently have, bear in mind that even under normal conditions you're probably going to use more data.

I would still advise most new smartphone users to sign up for a larger data plan at first, perhaps 3 to 4GB of data per month, and then track your usage. Once you find your data "sweet spot" you can alter your plan accordingly.

*According to fiercewireless.com.

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