How much data does your radio app really consume?

Some 9 years ago I performed a test of radio streaming over the internet. I was fed up with the slim choice of very “samey” FM radio station so, with the aid of some cabling (or a smartphone FM transmitter) I fed the audio output of my smartphone through my car radio.

The result? Well, it worked very well and I came to the conclusion that a 128kbps steam consumed around 1MB per minute. In reality it’s actually 0.94MB, but 1MB per minute sounds better in my head.

So, if you’re listening to a “standard” 128kbps radio stream on something like TuneIn for an hour on your smartphone, it’s going to consume 60MB (or 56.25MB to be precise) of data.

So you can now drive to work and you’re not just restricted to CD’s or FM radio any more. We’ve got DAB radio and music via Spotify or radio stations streamed over the internet. Better still, most of the time the internet audio streams are better quality than DAB stations.

Nowadays most modern cars have in-built Bluetooth, so your phone will just connect your smartphone and streamed music blasts out without the need to buy an FM Transmitter.

Great. Now, let’s assume that you’re spending an hour getting to work and an hour back. You listen constantly on 3G / 4G / 5G to a 128kbps stream. You’re going to use around 120MB (rounded up).

So, simple maths. 1MB per minute is 60MB per hour. 2 hours per day is 120MB. 10 hours a week is 600MB.

I’ve looked this up and there’s 4.34524 weeks per month on average. 600MB multiplied by that is 2,607.14 MB. Call it 2.6GB per month. That’s assuming you do this every work day (based on 5 days a week). It’s good to keep an eye on how much data you get through.

However, there’s an element of confusion because it’s not always a 128kbps feed you’re listening to. If you’ve got a favourite radio station then you’ll probably find that they’re pushing their own app. They do this so that you can listen no matter where you are. After all, we don’t all have DAB radios all the time and we’re not always in the same broadcast area.

But what bitrate are you listening to? It’s really hard to find out.

Alex P. Remember him?

At the moment I’m a big fan of CentreForce 88.3. It used to be a pirate radio station back in the day, but now those DJ’s have all grown up and they’ve got a proper DAB licence across London. I love it, but the problem is, I’m not in London.

OK – I mentioned those radio apps. CentreForce have an app too. You won’t necessarily know what stream they’ve chosen, but the good news is that…

  • You can check how much data you’re getting through with apps like My Data Manager
  • It’s in the interests of the developers / radio station that you don’t consume loads of data, else you’ll probably uninstall their app.
  • New encoding formats, like those using AAC, mean that you can get high-quality audio at lower bit-rates. This means that you get the same quality sound without the data hit.
  • You’re probably listening to a 128kbps stream, but you might be getting a 96kbps or even a 48kbps stream. Less is better in terms of your data usage.

I decided to really go for broke. Instead of using the official app, I used TuneIn and selected the absolute highest quality stream that the station had available.

As you can see above, that’s 320kbps. I left that running on a drive into work for 40 minutes. There was a couple of drop-outs during the drive (dodgy signal areas) but here’s the result…

In 40 minutes then, I used 95.6MB. Round that up and add in a margin for error and you’re looking at about 150MB per hour or 2.5MB per minute. As you can see, it’s a significant jump up. That car journey I mentioned earlier suddenly becomes 300MB per day or 1.5GB per week. That’s over 6.5GB per month.

In short then, if you’ve got a good data plan, using your smartphone to stream audio or internet radio is fantastic. Just keep an eye on that data plan. I’m on a 12GB monthly deal at the moment, and my trip to work and back does take a couple of GB per month. It’s worth it though, because instead of relying on some terrible local morning breakfast show, I can listen to exactly what I want, no matter where I am.

For all the mathematics in this story, I used this Techex calculator, taking the “File recording” figures as the data required.