Pandora App Review – Data Usage Test

It was recently announced that Verizon is ending its unlimited data plan. Starting July 7th, instead of ‘all you can eat’, you’ll be getting 2GB for $30. While 2GB might seem like a lot to some, if you’re a heavy streaming app user, you might find yourself paying overage charges if you’re not careful. One of the major causes of this may be Pandora.

For the most part, everyone loves Pandora. I personally know several people who use it heavily on their smartphones, whether Android, or iPhone. The most common usage scenario seems to be while commuting, or while at work during the day.  This wasn’t a problem if you were on an unlimited data plan. Unfortunately, now that the entire industry seems to have decided that the unlimited plans are history, these users need to either change their plan, or change their habits.

Pandora Data Usage

With the thought of looming data caps in mind, I decided to do a little homework, and figure out exactly how much data Pandora actually uses. My testing environment:

  • Phone – Droid Incredible
  • Data metering app – Netcounter
  • Music – an eclectic ‘Quick Mix’ of every station on my account, ranging from Country to Metal

Since the time of a Pandora session would always have different songs, and therefore different bandwidth usage (due to differences in beat/rhythm/range etc.) I decided that the best thing to do was run three 15 minute tests, then average it out. The music selection was as random as I could make it, and 15 minutes seems long enough to hit a few genres. That’s about as scientific as i could get.

The Results

After listening to Pandora for 15 minutes, I recorded the data usage each time:

  • Test 1 – 10.22MB used
  • Test 2 – 8.26MB used
  • Test 3 – 8.42MB used

Interesting, but what exactly does this mean to the average Pandora user? Time for some analysis:

  • The Pandora app uses on average 8.96MB per 15 minutes, which is 35.84MB per hour of music.
  • If you’re on a 150MB per month plan (my current Verizon plan) you can listen to only 4.18 hours of music a month!
  • If you’re on a 2GB plan, you can listen for 55.8 hours a month. Broken down to a standard 5 day work week, that would be 2.79 hours of music a day.

Those numbers aren’t exactly encouraging. I don’t know about you, but there are days when I listen to music at work for at least 6 hours in a single day. On my current plan, I’d hit my cap, and have to pay overage charges before my day was even done. The 2GB plan would obviously take me a lot farther, but I’m pretty sure that on average, I listen to more than 2.79 hours of music a day.

Oh, in case this isn’t clear, I’m just talking about Pandora data usage here. All of your browsing, email, etc. haven’t even been added to these bandwidth totals. So in summary, if you listen to Pandora a LOT, and don’t have an unlimited plan (or are about to lose it), then you’d better upgrade, or make sure you’re near a WiFi spot.

One last point. There’s a lot of commentary recently on Sirius XM Satellite Radio vs Pandora. I keep seeing statements such as “Why do I need to pay a monthly fee for Sirius when Pandora is free on my phone?!??!”. This is a much larger discussion, because it’s not really an apples to apples comparison. However, as far as “portable music” is concerned, they’re both considered options. So just to bang the point home here, if you use Pandora enough, and take a road trip or two on the weekends while listening, you’ll probably go over your data plan’s bandwidth allotment, resulting in overage fees. Those fees would be just about equal to, or possibly much more, than a Sirius subscription.

That’s about it. Now get out there, find a WiFi spot, and THEN turn on Pandora! Bam, no problems.

About the Author:

I like technology, sci-fi, fantasy, and anime. You know, cool geeky stuff.

10 Comments + Add Comment

  • I’m surprised no one commented on this. Great article. Now Verizon has upgraded their 2gb plan to 4gb for the same price BTW.

  • Thank Gavin. Always feels good to get some feedback. I just looked into that Verizon plan, and it appears to only be for new purchases of a 4G LTE phone. It’s also unclear whether that would be a permanent plan, or for 6 mos or something.

  • I was tempted several times to get a smartphone, but resisted. Now I’m glad I did. If you can’t get unlimited data anymore, then I think these smart-phones aren’t so smart anymore. I dropped XM too for it just got too expensive. Recurring revenue is what the industry calls it; it amounts to a vacuum hose into your wallet. Mark my words, your home internet is probably going to have badwidth limits in the future or at least fees based on more $/per bandwidth than you currently enjoy.

  • Sprint still has an unlimited data plan for smartphone use. However they have just put a 5gb cap on their “hotspot” ($30) which now means that I will no longer play Pandora on my computer (via Sprint’s hotspot,) but purchase speakers to plug in directly to my smartpnone, thus reserving the hotspot 5gb for other functions.

    What does streaming video use per hour?

  • Hey Ken,
    I actually did a data usage analysis of the Netflix app a while ago:

    Long story short, from my tests, about 90-95MB per half hour show (about 23 minutes, since there are no commercials). I’m not sure if anything has changed, since that review was from just over a year ago. Who knows if they tweaked the settings to reduce bandwidth, although I suspect it’s about the same. I may run another round of tests when time allows.

  • I went over my 1GB monthly data plan last month. I was using my iPhone as a hot spot for my iPod to play Pandora while commuting back and forth to work.
    I stoppd and my Dta usage went to below 1/3 of a Gig.
    However, I been using Pandora at home while designing web advertising campaigns all day and I jusr received an overage notice from AT&T for my DSL home Internet plan. It says that I went over th 150 GB alloted for my Home Internet Connection.

  • Thanks for this article, I just wanted to figure out the same thing.
    My plan caps at 3GB, but instead of charging overage fees, my download speed slows down at 128kbps, that´s a good thing because I don´t need to think about how many data I´m using, it just gets slower, but, doing the math….

    10.22MB = 10.465,28 KB / 15, / 60 = 11KB per sec.
    128kbps = 16KB per sec.. so Pandora streams below 128kbps, barely good for music, unless they use a relly good compression algorithm.. (try to listen to a 128kbps MP3..).
    Under that scenario I could safely listen to pandora.. unlimited.. without any other app using precious bandwidth.

  • It looks like just recently the Pandora Android app started sucking down a LOT more data than it used to. I listened for about 70 minutes this morning and wound up using 400MB of data! That’s 343MB/hour, which is absurd.

    I suspect it’s since the most recent update on April 15th. I won’t be using Pandora anymore because it uses too much data. Google Music only uses about 80MB/hour in my recent experience.

    • Well if its true that pandora used 343mb in one hour then most likely pandora implemented the caching just like spotify does and if they did that it would suck because people on these ultra capped bandwidth mobile plans cant afford to be caching multimedia content. For example, for spotify even if I limited caching to 1 gb it woult totally kill my 500 mb freedompop cell phone plan for a month as my voice plans depends on data for VoIP. So withthat said, I hope that Pandora never implements caching for mobile users.

  • Excellent analysis. Are you up to performing a comparison of Pandora, Songza, Spotify and any other commonly used music streaming apps?

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