This Is How Much Media You’ll Be Able To Stream Through iCloud Over 3G [Feature]


How much music or video can you really stream on a 2GB mobile data plan?
How much music or video can you really stream on a 2GB mobile data plan?

Next week, Apple will finally confirm years of rumors of taking iTunes to the cloud and unveil iCloud, their media locker service that will automatically scan and match your existing iTunes library for streaming to any iOS device.

In some ways, though, iCloud’s taken too long to get here. The era of unlimited bandwidth is over. In the last year we’ve seen both mobile carriers and ISP broadband providers impose severe data caps on their users. The vast majority of iPhone and iPad customers only have 2GB of data per month to play with. How much media can you really stream with a 2GB data cap?

Let’s find out!


To figure out how much music you'll be able to stream through iCloud, we got a little help from iTunes' good friends, the Beatles.

We know for sure that when iCloud launches, it’ll support streaming music, if not necessarily video. So how much music can you really stream on a 2GB data plan?

To find out, first, we decided to look at what quality other streaming music services like Rdio and Spotify stream music to their users.

Rdio keeps that information close to their breast, but Spotify’s open about the quality of their streams. They offer three different streams of varying bitrates, which they adjust according to connection. The lowest quality is 96kbps (roughly radio quality), the medium quality is 160kbps and the highest-quality streams are CD quality as 320kbps.

What does that mean in real world terms? To find out, we took one of Steve Jobs’ favorite albums, Rubber Soul by The Beatles, and converted it into 96kbps, 160kbps and 320kbps copies. Then we did the tests.

Here’s how many hours of music streaming you can do on a 2GB data plan.

96kbps (Radio Quality)45.76 hours of streaming per month

160kbps (3G Quality)27.52 hours of streaming per month

320kbps (CD Quality)13.79 hours of streaming per month

Spotify offers CD quality 320kbps streams only over WiFi: streaming over 3G is done at a rate of 160kbps. We imagine Apple will do the same, while also offering the option to bump down the quality even further for those who want to make the most of their data plans, but that will come at a cost: your music will sound radio quality.

Conclusion? On a standard 2GB plan, you will be able to listen to just over 65 minutes of medium quality music stored in the iCloud each day over 3G before hitting your data cap… and that’s without using any data for anything else!

That’s probably just fine for most users, especially if you have access to WiFi most of the day, but if you spend several hours a day commuting and are hoping to use iCloud instead of local storage, you might want to think again.

If an hour’s a day worth of music streaming from the iCloud over 3G seems a little chintzy to you, we’re sorry to tell you that streaming video from the iCloud is an even grimmer proposition. But as an experiment, let’s be morbid. Just how much video can you stream over a 2GB plan?

  • lb51

    Would you not expect to see wifi as part of the solution. IMO, I don’t think we would be limited to just phone data usage. If so, then any cloud service is moot for the immediate term. 

  • brownlee

    We mention WiFi augmenting iCloud repeatedly in the piece, so yeah, we totally do see WiFi being a big part of iCloud, but there’s no way to model 3G + WiFi use.

  • Chris Cooper

    It’s all very well for 2GB data caps, but greedy O2 only lets me have 500mb per month on my contract :(

  • NewMex

    Wish Apple would use their cash to build a fast competitor to ISPs with reasonable bandwidth limits for its consumers using Apple products!

  • bluelittlegirl

    As a musician and audiophile, among other things, I listen to music constantly if I am not playing or singing. I even sleep to music. This seems problematic to me.

  • Greg

    good thing I’m still grandfathered in under the unlimited plan

  • Ed_Kel

    I asked a very similar question yesterday via the Washington Post conversation and can’t help but to think that this post was inspired by that! haha! Thanks John for this informative post; it answered every doubt I had about iCloud’s compatibility with our data plans and then some!

  • Pavel Sladkov

    that’s what i call a good fecking idea! 

  • Joel Engel

    The bigger problem is what’s going to happen when the ISPs start metering. 

  • danieljhon

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  • bmdonovan

    Currently, mobile broadband providers are setting their caps up as an immovable object. If Cloud entertainment takes off, customers could become an unstoppable force… It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • danieljhon

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  • Josh

    I’m still on the unlimited plan as well…good thing!!!  My wife isn’t, though.  However, she is ALWAYS on wifi and only has 200 mb per month…only gone over once and they refunded us!  :)

  • Janne

    “The bottom line is that as exciting as iCloud is, it’s true potential will be hobbled in the near future by the mandatory 2GB data caps imposed by mobile carriers upon iPhone and iPad customers.”

    Speak for yourself. I have totally unlimited 3G on my iPad. Not everyone lives in USA you know…

  • cheesy11

    i like what i see as long as its free.

  • brownlee

    Many already are, but the meters are way higher. 150GBs and 250GBs are numbers I’m commonly seeing.

  • brownlee

    My pleasure, Kel!

  • Test


  • Rui Archer

    It is because of this that I applaud the initiative of one of the Portuguese ISPs, they have set up a subscription music streaming service (beating spotify, zune et al to the PT market), the service is free for those in the highest tiers of ADSL and Fiber, and on some of the mobile plans.

    Plus their offer the bandwidth if you use the service on their mobile network (well it is, for now, only available on their network :D).

    Subscription cost? Free (for some plans)/€3.99(if you have any recurring plan)/€4.99(if you don’t have a plan)/€6.99 (will be the price point for those on other networks) (includes 10 mp3s to keep each month like zune)

    So personally i don’t give a “#$# if spotify is taking too long to expand to other marketMicrosoftrosoft is lagging on broadeningmarketplaceeplace availability or if Google/Amazon/Apple even think that a music locker is an appealing service.

  • mlahero

    Ah just let us have spotify over here, I cant believe it still hasnt been sorted out.

  • Support 18inc

    I have 6GB of data per month for only 30 bucks. Hooray Canada, hooray Fido…I’m not worried.

  • djrobsd

    You guys seem to miss the point that the majority of iPhone users in the US are already grandfathered into an unlimited plan, and even when Verizon first launched the iPhone they were offering unlimited, so most of these limitations you speak of only apply to some of the newer iPhone customers.

    In addition, most people who stream video will probably be near a wifi connection, so really the only people using 3g bandwidth will probably be streaming audio while commuting.

  • Scott MoMo Waite ?

    “The vast majority of iPhone and iPad customers only have 2GB of data per month to play with. How much media can you really stream with a 2GB data cap?”

    LOL – I wish! I get 500mb. I can upgrade to 1gb if I want to, but that’s going to cost even more than the outrageous plan that I’m on at the moment. I pay £42 a month now for an iphone that I bought outright, compared to the £35 that I paid for my BlackBerry on contract.

    One word for this situation? BULLSHIT!

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  • minimalist1969

    As much as I loathe a future with only 3 wireless carriers in the US and think that will be bad for competition, I am actually OK with wireless data caps for the time being.   At least they are being consistent in their application and don;t have any real content of their own to which they can give a free ride.  Everyone competes under the same limitations. 

    Cable internet providers on the other hand have some serious conflicts of interest when their on demand content doesn’t count towards data caps while their competitor’s content does.  Sooner or later their will have to be some sort of government intervention there.   Imagine what would happen to retail competitiveness if Wal-Mart owned the highway system?

  • benjitek

    I don’t think those bandwidth estimates represent anything realistic — there’s no mention of what streaming format is being used for the calculation.  AAC+ streams at CD quality using 64kbs, you’ve got CD quality listed at 320kbs.  I can’t imagine Apple >not< using some sort of wonder-compression method to stream.

    That being said, I imagine those that posted how ‘they’d never come close to a 2gb data cap’ when metered internet was implemented by AT&T are changing their tune about now ;)

  • Anonymous

    Only problem in Canada is that your wired access is the same plan: 6GB for $30.. :P