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Video calls and mobile data

As we all get used to new ways of working, video calls are the obvious solution. They’re fun accessible and immediate. They can really help people feel connected.

However, we should also be aware that for volunteers and clients and those of us who don’t have broadband, this isn’t “free” – even if we are not paying to use the apps themselves.

Video calls use more data than you might think

Video calls will use up more data than just about any other app on a mobile phone, tablet or laptop. Group video calls will use even more than 1:1 calls.

And there’s no big difference between the amount of data used by Skype, Zoom, Hangouts/Duo or Whatsapp.

To give you and idea of how much data we’re talking about, a standard 1:1 video call on Zoom uses just over 0.5 Gigabytes an hour, (1 Gigabyte in 111 minutes). A group video can uses about 0.8 Gigabytes an hour (1 Gigabyte in about 75 minutes) (Source for Zoom, Source for Skype)

Put simply, a half hour video call each week will easily use up someone’s 2GB monthly allowance – even if they devote their entire data allowance to to you and you alone (ie they don’t send/receive emails, look at anything online, Skype with anyone else, watch Youtube, or use Whatsapp etc)

As people who work with folks on extremely low incomes, and asylum seekers subsisting beneath the official poverty line, we all need to get better at understanding what life in limited data looks like and act accordingly.

How LASSN are keeping people connected

At LASSN, we absolutely want our volunteers to use video technology, but we also know this will come at a cost to both them and to the person they are matched with. 

  • So instead of reimbursing the costs of bus fares, car usage and cups of tea in cafes, we are providing £5 a month to volunteers and clients alike, to enable them to stay in touch.
  • We are asking staff and volunteers to consider their use of video technology very carefully.  
  • Where we know there a number of households living very close to one another, we are providing portable WiFi. Wireless routers cost about £75 and Three have an unlimited Data tariff of £25 a month 

Top tips for reducing data use.

  • Think about which calls need to be video calls and which do not. Skype, Google Duo and Zoom all have options to use voice only – or to switch between video and audio calls. You could start a meeting on video (for the first 10 minutes) and then move to audio for a while, before moving back to video. Or you could just do a regular phonecall, which will not use data – but be deducted from someone’s monthly minutes allowance. 
  • Think about which calls need to be group calls and which ones can be done 1:1. It may feel more efficient to run your ESOL classes in Group Chat, but the cost is being borne by the individual participants. Think about how you can use your resources to help them.
  • Make every moment matter. Plan your calls and contacts in advance. Try and build in some structure to keep you on track, and so you are not wasting time
  • Do not use HD settings. You can change these in
  • Encourage the people you work with to keep an eye on their data allowance, to make sure they are not running out. It’s easy to do this by downloading the App of their Mobile Phone Network, or by changing the settings on their phone (see below).
  • Limit background data. This is a bit more complicated but a quick google of “Limit background data”  “Reduce my data use” pulls up some helpful and in depth articles like this
  • Change your phone settings. Again this is a bit more complicated, but here are some guides for
  • Youtube clips are great but are not much more data efficient you’d think that streaming video one way (rather than 2 ways) would involve less data, right? Wrong (Source). In fact, depending on the resolution of your clips – watching Youtube might burn through your data allowance even faster. Although, unlike a live broadcast you can at least pause and rewind content. 
  • Creating sound files (eg MP3s) and emailing them uses significantly less data. And combined with a document or photo of a document can produce a useful learning resource. You can create MP3s easily on your phone/tablet/laptop and by reducing the quality settings (the lower the bitrate the smaller the file)  you can make them even smaller.

How to top up someone else’s phone credit

Different networks do this slightly differently, so you should find out what Network they are, before trying to do this. And sometimes, straight up, it’s easier just to put a fiver in the post.

Anyway as ever, Google and Youtube are your friend in finding this stuff out. To save you time here are some of the more common providers and how-to guides

Jon from LASSN


  1. Getting internet for people without access to broadband – some basic info | Migration Partnership - 23rd July 2020

    […] Top up someone’s phone up on their behalf. To do this will require you to know someone’s phone number, their mobile phone network, as well as to have a payment card. Different networks do this in different ways. Some require you to have an account with the network yourself. Some do not. Some networks will send you free SIM cards so you can set up an account (in order to load up someone elses’s card). Some do not. It’s a confusing and inconsistent state of affairs, and very labour intensive. I previously included links for all the main networks at the end of this article. […]

  2. LASSN's support of tech across Leeds, since the start of the Pandemic in 2020 - Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network - 5th July 2021

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