Sunday, 17 April 2011

Calculator: How much data does WhatsApp use and what are the costs?

WhatsApp is one of the few apps that I will gladly pay for when the beta period is over, but how much data does it use?  I have done some experimentation over this weekend and have published the results in the attached calculator.   
Click here to download the calculator: HTT’s WhatsApp Costs Calculator
Note: This is by no means a scientific experiment/calculator, I just wanted to get a feeling for how much data is being used and what charges are actually being charged by Vodacom on my prepaid, no data bundle account that charges R2 per MB.imageIf you are on a BlackBerry then WhatsApp uses your BIS or BES service (refer to WhatsApp FAQ), so it doesn’t incur any additional data costs (as long as you are not roaming internationally).  See posting here for how to set up your phone while out of your home country: Roaming using your Blackberry and don’t want to use Data Services from the cell phone network: SOLVED

If you have a phone that can connect to WiFi routers (like your ADSL router at home) then WhatsApp will connect over that WiFi connection rather than incurring costs on your cell phone’s data bundle.  As you can see from the spreadsheet the costs for 4KB over WiFi on ADSL is 1/100th of a ZA cent.

Polling data costs:
OK, so how much are we spending when we send WhatsApp messages and how much when we’re not?
Hold on there…. how much do we spend when we’re not sending messages? – What on earth does that mean?
Well, I noticed that even when you aren’t actually sending text messages there are data packets being sent (and charged for).  I call these data costs “WhatsApp polling” overheads.  I assume that WhatsApp is communicating to their server to keep the channel open. 
It’s difficult to figure out how many polls are made per hour.  I’ve noticed sometimes up to 4 per hour – and some hours with none at all.
I’ve taken an average of 3 polls per hour, makes 72 per day, of 1,024 bytes charged at ZAR0.01 per poll: costs R21.60 per month 

Messaging data costs:
Then there are actual costs for sending messages.  The receiver will also incur data costs if they are not on BIS/BES or other cheaper data connections.

Note: cell phone network providers allow you to buy pre-paid bundles of data at a much reduced rate – beware though, it’s on a “use-it-or-lose-it” basis. Vodacom gives you until the end of the following month to use up the data. Note: that’s not a 2 month window! (unless you buy on the 1st of the month). If you buy a bundle on the 20th of April, then the data will expire at the end of the following month ie: end May in this example.

I sent some experimental messages and one specific message of precisely 100 characters to see what was actually billed by Vodacom.
I checked her mini-statement online using Vodacom’s online “Mini-Statement” – updated hourly (more or less).
BTW: @Vodacom, please allow prepaid users to see more than 1 page of their billing for free!  Unless you are really trying to keep them in the dark on the costs – the last 10 transactions is really so pre-data connections!… like ummm so 1990‘s

Note the 100 character message that I sent:
     a) row 9: WhatsApp message of 100 characters was charged ZAR0.22 by Vodacom.  I expected that to be much less than that – so I resent that message later in the day:
    b) row 3: WhatsApp message of 100 characters was charged ZAR0.01 by Vodacom – that’s more like it!  So, I tried it again – to be sure (if that’s possible)
    c) row 2: WhatsApp message of 100 characters was charged ZAR0.01 by Vodacom – OK, so now I’m sure… the first message must have included some polling “extras”.
It also seems that Vodacom round the data charges to the nearest KB (thousand bytes).

So, as you can see it’s not a scientific analysis, but I am pretty sure the SMS and call costs that I would incur if it were not for WhatsApp would be much higher than the above illustrated costs. 

Battery cost:
The “always on” way that WhatsApp communicates with its home server uses the phone’s data channel – which uses more power than if there wasn’t data communications happening.  So, expect to be charging your phone more often than before.
This is not a problem for me – but might be for some.
I guess, it’s a trade-off between how many SMSs you normally send vs how many you don’t now that you have WhatsApp.  For me, it’s a no-brainer! 

WhatsApp program cost:
You can use the app for free for 12 months, then you need to pay per year.
Download by clicking these links:
Nokia and BlackBerry and Android: $1.99 USD/year (~R13.50);
iPhone $0.99/year (~R6.75); 

The latest versions of WhatsApp allow sending of group messages and photos and voice notes – note: these are larger in size than “plain” text instant messages, so costs will go up due to higher data costs – but it’s still cheaper than sending MMS messages (MultiMedia messages).

WhatsApp, you are great – thanks… and I will definitely be purchasing an annual license for my phones!


  1. thanks. very useful

  2. Very good analysis!

  3. Absolutely brilliant. Thanks a lot.

  4. Fuuuhhh........I thot i was having weird problem with my Nokia Connections, but my guts were right that this WhatsApp needs 24hrs connection to be updated.

    1. it looks like we have the same problem. it says that i an never online till someone sends me a message which i recieve a long time then when they sent it. i some how used R110 in less than two weeks and only sent whatsapp messages... nothing else! i make sure that my internet connection is off all the time. i checked my phone history on the computer and it turned out that i was using Vlive??

    2. I have a Nokia N8, updated to Symbian Belle, I was on WhatsApp everyday before then and my average cost was at least between R400 and R500 per month on contract (R350 for the contract and phone etc etc and the rest is data usage)... I still use WhatsApp and send the same amount of text messages and my phone bill is now at between R650 - R850 p/m and I don't even use Facebook or any other apps on my phone besides Mxit. But my Mxit costs are very low due to me not using it as often as WhatsApp. So will someone please explain how the heck my phone bill is that high from not using any other apps, calling, SMSing but only using WhatsApp. Thanks.

  5. Nice analysis, I did a similar one for "free" Skype calls.

  6. I don't have the smileys on muy whatsapp.How can I get them?

    1. The Smileys can be obtained by clicking on the smiley on the right hand side of the message block.
      So, start typing a message to a contact, then click on the smiley face and the list of smileys will appear.

      If not, then click the "options" or "menu" button and scroll to the smiley or emoticon item

      If that doesn't work, then please let me know which phone you are using

      Thanks ;)

    2. I cannot see smileys on whatsapp. The whatsapp emoticons ain't visible.
      I have nokia C3. How can I get and use them ?

    3. Received comment via email from Darryl:
      As with the last comment above, I too have a C3. I CAN send smileys, but only separately, not in-line with the message. Options/Menu doesn't give an option to insert a smiley. Any ideas if there is maybe a shortcut key or something?

      Response: unfortunately I do not have a Nokia C3 to test/try out so I cannot help :(
      I suspect that the S40 version does not allow you to insert a smiley inline. Perhaps this feature will be added soon. Why not try and email the WhatsApp developers directly?

      Regards HTT

  7. i really love the whatsapp application, just wondering why its restricted to some phone models

    1. Hi Samuel

      WhatsApp relies on on features provided in certain operating systems on phones eg: Symbian. Some older versions of the Operating Systems do not provide the features required. The current minimum requirements for Nokia/Sony Ericsson is: Nokia S40 or S60 3rd edition, 5th edition, Symbian^3 or Symbian Anna Operating System

      To see which phones can run WhatsApp: go to the WhatsApp download page for your type of phone and see the list of supported devices:
      Sony Ericsson:
      Windows Phone:

  8. Thanks for the info very nice work :)

    1. Dear Saiprasad

      Thank you for the kind words - keep your comments rolling in!


      HTT ;)

  9. So let me refresh just so I understand. If I am in another country and I use my what'sapp I will be charged roaming data fees? I have 500mb of data, but how long would that last.

    1. As far as i know data bundles are not applicable while roaming so that will be untouched and your roaming rate will depend on your country but from what i remember its between R5 and R125 per mb

  10. Hi Anonymous (roaming)

    Yes, if you use your cell phone for any data connection or voice calls in another country then you will be charged roaming fees. Free minutes and free data do not apply.

    So, your 500MB of data will not be used while in other countries - roaming data fees will be charged - and they are very expensive!
    That's why people either take out their SIM card and buy a SIM card from the country that they are visiting.
    OR, use WiFi connections.
    See this posting for info on how to disable your BB's data connection while abroad - other phones might have similar settings:

    While you are in your home country the 500MB bundle will be used.
    Extending the calculations in the HTT calculator (attached to the blog posting):
    If the average bytes per poll is: 2,458
    Then bytes per day will be: 176,947
    Then bytes per month will be: 5,308,416
    Which is about 5MB per month.
    So, you will have 450MB for Internet surfing etc.

    I hope this answers your questions?

    Thanks for the comment


    HTT ;)

    1. If i call someone on whatsup. I gather if im on wifi it will not charge me data. If they not connected to Wifi do they get charged data? Is there a cost to the person receiving the whatsup call?

  11. Hi Samuel

    WhatsApp application is restricted to some phone models because of its software and hardware needs.

    Software: it is written in a programming language that uses features that some phones cannot support.

    Hardware: It also uses the phone's data connection so phones that cannot connect to the Internet cannot use WhatsApp.

    Hope that helps? Thanks for your comment.


    HTT ;)

  12. Good morning from Luxembourg.
    First off, thank you for your hardwork!! This question has been bugging me. What is cheaper...turning on my data (for which I do not have data-plan because it is a company phone) and sending a message on WhatsApp or sending a traditional SMS.
    I've read the article and also downloaded the calculator but I am a bit confused with calculations.
    Since you are the expert, what do you think?

    Cost per MB in Luxembourg is : 0.63 Euros
    Cost per MB Roaming in France, Germany, etc. is: 1.8 Euros

    Cost per SMS in luxembourg is: 0.05 Euros ( 5 cents)
    Cost per SMS Roaming in France, Germany, etc. is:0.09 Euros ( 9 cents)
    Note that if I go above the 160 characters (which I normally do) an SMS is billed as two, so the cost is 10 and 18 cents.

    Your feedback is much appreciated.

    1. Hi Nico (from Luxembourg!),

      Thanks for your kind words and I'm glad you found the information useful.

      I have done some calculations based on the costs you have provided and what's clear is that the WhatsApp costs of sending 2 SMS-like messages (320 characters) is really negligible - while in Lux: 0,0002 cents and while roaming in Europe: 0,0006 cents!
      The "polling" charges are more "visible"... if they are the same as in my calculations in South Africa, then your per day cost is about 11 Euro cents in Lux and 31 Euro cents while roaming in Europe.

      If my calculations are correct then: if you send more than 2 Double_SMSs (messages up to 320 chars) per day, then it's cheaper to use WhatsApp.

      I have added a worksheet to the HTT calculator to show my workings.
      Download it here
      and go to the worksheet called "EstimatesEurosForNico".

      Thanks for your question!


      HTT (in Cape Town) ;)

  13. Your polling calculation is way off, ass a push service it does not poll at all, it does however do an hourly check to compare your phonebook contacts with registered whatsapp users which could be considered polling but you would have to device you polling stat by 3 putting it at 24 per day, all other connections are push, ie receiving messages (yes you pay to receive too).

    1. Hi Reme

      Thanks for your comment.

      Please refer to the paragraph in the blog article with heading "Polling data costs" and the "min statement". Those costs were derived from my cell phone company's actual bill (Vodacom). I counted the number of R0.01 charges and called those "polling" charges - my term may be incorrect - it might well be the sync of the contacts lists - so thanks for that observation.

      But to reduce it to 24 per day might be too drastic based on the actual billing that I can see.
      I noticed sometimes up to 4 per hour – and some hours with none at all.
      I took an average of 3 polls per hour, makes 72 per day.

      In any event, WhatsApp works for me and I don't mind paying the "polling" or "sync-ing" costs rather than paying the hefty SMS charges.

      Thanks again for your comment Reme :)


      HTT ;)

  14. I have Blackberry Bold 9700. I've read about changing my browser preference to hotspot, but will this wifi preference apply to Whatsapp as well? I want to use Whatsapp on wifi at home, not 3G.

    1. @Anonymous

      I tried using the HotSpot option a while back - I think that only forces the phone's Internet browser to use WiFi. All other applications are not affected - I could be wrong though!

      I found an alternate solution: Turn your phone's data connection off completely: Options->Mobile Network->Data Services: OFF
      I use it when travelling abroad and when I don't want to incur roaming charges:
      "Roaming using your Blackberry and don’t want to use Data Services from the cell phone network: SOLVED":

      If you are on the Blackberry BIS service in South Africa, then the data costs should be covered - so it's free... as compared to your ADSL bandwidth costs (unless your ADSL is uncapped).

      Hope that helps?


      HTT ;)

  15. I have a blackberry mobile and use the whats app. Does it use up my internet everytime i send a message if it is in the uk from the uk?

    1. Yes, WhatsApp uses the phone's data connection to send and receive messages to any other phone.

      The point of this article is to show that the WhatsApp costs are very very very much less than using the old fashioned SMS messaging.


      HTT ;

  16. Love it! Thanks very much

  17. Thanks for working all this out - I literally had no idea about any of this! Was really interested to hear about the “WhatsApp polling” overheads - but I didn't realise you have to purchase an annual license!! I guess whatever the cost, it's still cheaper than SMS so will definitely carry using it. Thanks for the post!

  18. Hi, Ive been using What'sApp for several weeks now and also kept check on data usage. Till now I had data on the phone but presently I am using only my topup cash. While there was data on, I used very little data and it seemed to stay on line was such a little it was something like 7 KB overnirht. To actually send and receive messages over a period of several hours seemed even less. With no data on the phone and extensive use of messages for the passed three days, my cash/airtime balance has not moved with one cent. I have a Nokia C5-03 and have HSPA mainly available from Vodacom

  19. Hi All again. I wonder if someone could tell me where I can download a complete user-guide for What'sApp, as there are several moves, and menu options which I do not completely understand and do not feel like wasting a lot of time to find out that Im getting no further than sending and receiving wath I call "WAMs", What's App Messages. Thanks.

  20. thanks for doing this math dude..helps a lot to plan data usage

  21. Thx. for the detailed analysis.

  22. I have a Samsung Galaxy S3 mini,(which wouldnt switch on 4 days after purchase ) I love the phone after using my old nokia for last 8 years, so am hoping it will be revived.In meantime trying to learn about this new technology.You have answered the cost of WhattsApp question. Thankyou. About roaming I cant because I am prepaid per second billing. But it sounds as though if I can switch off my data services and use my sons wi-fi when I visit Australia in December. I would be able to send WhattsApp sms"s. Is that correct and can I switch off data on the Galaxy S 3 mini. As I go away for 1 to 2 months at a time is it breaking any of the famous T"s & C"s apply, Would it also apply to England. One more, When the phone is at home with the MWeb wi-fi on does the phone use that to update apps etc in preferance to using phone data. Hope you can explain to this Granny. Thank You Jennifer

  23. I have Samsung Galaxy S 3 mini ( which refused to open after 4 days( hope it can be revived I love it after 8 years with an old nokia. Thanks for answering WhattsApp cost question.I cant roam because I am on prepaid per second, but it sounds as though if I can switch off my data services and use my sons wi-fi in Australia when I visit I would be able to send WhattsApp sms's. Is that correct and would I be able to switch off the data on the galaxy S 3 mini As i go also to England to visit other grandkids would it work there also. Does that break the T's & C"s conditions. Next question, If I am in my house with my MWeb wi-fi on, does the phone use that to update apps etc in preferance to data bundle on phone.thankyou in hope. technophobe granny

  24. so how much for a message sent kb uses, or it's by words count.. how much mb for one day, or depending for how many messages which is sent, thnk u

  25. Very interesting analysis. Inspired by you I too did some snooping on my mobile. I had installed NoRoot firewall which logs every request made to any website by any app. I also have My Data Manager (MDM) which logs all web traffic app-by-app and hour-by-hour.

    I am constantly on WiFi but sometimes have to resort to Mobile 3G plans. When I am not on WiFi I shut down all background activity in addition to most of the unneeded traffic by the firewall. When on WiFi, I still shut down all web traffic which shd not communicate with outside world for it's operation (mainly to prevent extra power usage plus as a way of blocking ads).

    I snooped for about 2:00 hours on my mobile and noted down every request made by any app. I was not explicitly using any app in this period and fortunately no email/mgs/call was received. No whatasapp msg either. Now my findings -

    My maps was disabled as well as all GPS use. During this time only three apps were accessing the web.

    1) Lumped under all the OS background services (contact/calendar/news/weather/location) syncing as well as Gmail syncing [I use 5 gmail accounts]. This service made 18 requests to Google servers as per the firewall info. MDM reports 5 KB of traffic for Google services framework and 308 KB for "OS services" [I assume OS service data is only for google]

    2) WhatsApp made 48 requests to as per the firewall. MDM reports 19 KB of data usage.

    3) Rediffmail (an email client) made 12 requests as per the firewall. MDM reports 26 KB of data usage.

    In this whole duration only three web portals were contacted and only three apps made that contact, each to a different web portal so the analysis can be done very cleanly.

    My conclusions -

    1) WhatsApp uses an idle bandwidth of about 10 KB per hour. And it does "polling" once every 2:30 minutes.

    2) The mysterious "OS services" uses up a lion's share of idle bandwidth far exceeding anything else.

    3) The email client has a very reasonable use profile.

    I will do another analysis when I am on my mobile 3G plan and all the background syncing is shut down. My guess is I may use up an average idle bandwidth of 30 KB per hour, which translates to 360 KB per day. In my city (in India), my telco provider would bill me INR 0.72 per day on a pay-as-you-go 3G plan [pay-as-you-go is activated as the default data tariff after the lumpsum 3G data plans are used up].

    I would also do an experiment of sending 100 fixed length w-app msg of 100 chars each to someone who also agrees to reply back exactly the same msgs exactly the same number of times. All the while I would make sure that only w-app is accessing the web and everything else is firewalled off.

    That is for some other day ... :)

    1. Hi No_Mist

      Thanks for your comment and detailed analysis
      It is much appreciated and gives valuable info to me and my readers.
      I look forward to your next analysis

      Regards HTT ;)

    2. Thanks for your appreciation. However I was a little sloppy in my estimation. The average (idle) background data usage would amount to -

      1. Only essential/useful services (whatsapp, email excluding all syncing+background OS) - 720 Kb per day. It would cost INR 2.16 on default 3G data service. On 2-2.5G (EDGE/GPRS/WAP/etc) the charges are higher at INR 7.20

      2. If using sync as well as useful apps, it would cost "extra" INR 10.80 (3G) or INR 36.00 (2G) per day. The total idle OS usage amounts to 1.08 GB per month which is enormous. The total useful idle data traffic amounts to 216 MB out of which w-app's share is 72 MB.

      3. The most affordable 3G connection in India costs INR 102.00 per month and gives 300 MB usage. Clearly insufficient for constant usage. But if used only for waking hours plus a little judicious cutting down, it is OK for email+w-app+news+shopping.

      4. The next most affordable 3G plans are INR 249 for 1 GB and INR 449 for 2.5 GB. Quite affordable I would say. Cheapest 4G costs INR 445 for 2 GB and default data rates are INR 0.05 per 100 KB. But 4G is available in only select cities, not mine :(

      Since w-app is used as a messaging app, we shd compare it to the SMS packs on offer.

      1. Single SMS costs INR 1.00 for regional and INR 1.50 for national msg (India is a big country, not that you did not know).

      2. The cheapest SMS pack is INR 13.00 for 200 SMSs per month. Which would amount to INR 156 per year. There are other heavy usage packs which works out much cheaper on a per msg basis. Pure play w-app "if not used at all" would cost INR 60 + INR 262 (data cost) on a 3G data plan. Since it would effectively be bundled with a lot of other traffic as well, I would estimate only w-app's share in a lumpsum data connection would be INR 40 per month.

      So it appears that buying a SMS pack is far more cost effective than w-app.

    3. Hi No_Mist

      Thanks for the work... my view is that (in South Africa anyway) people get phones with data bundles and they have a lot of unused data that isn't used at the end of each month, so the WhatsApp data usage is "budgeted for" or "bundled in".
      Also, the length of SMSs and the ease of conversation using WhatsApp is far superior than using SMSs... to me SMSs are like restricted conversations as compared to WhatsApp's easier flow of information because both parties are not hindered by the cost of each message.
      Also, group conversations are not possible (AFAIK) using SMSs.

      Regards HTT ;)

  26. thanks for the info also .... a also found that it is useful info .... i just installed W-app at my Nokia handphone ... and i may want to compare my bill for the next 2 months either it is worth to just W-app or normal ordinary SMS plan ...

    1. So, what was the outcome of your experiment?

  27. will i lose my main balance if i use whatsapp on nokia c5..?

    1. Hi, I'm not sure what you mean by "main balance"?

      Please reply to this comment to clarify.

  28. i have 500 mb of data on my iphone contract is that enough for my whatsapp for the entire month?

    1. Hi Liliana

      Yes, that's probably enough data for the entire month - just as long as you don't send (or receive) big files like videos.
      Remember, your phone uses data for updating your phone's operating system (called "updates") as well as for updating your phone's apps.

      I would recommend checking your usage of data on your network provider's web site (Vodacom or MTN or CellC or TelkomMobile or etc..).
      Also, make sure that you tell your network provider to cap your data so that if you over-use the 500MB then it cuts off your data connection - so you don't get any nasty surprises in your next phone bill.

      That advice is for anyone using data on their phone - not just for WhatsApp users.


      HTT ;)

  29. i have 500mb of data on my iphone contract will my whatsapp last for the enitre month with only 500mb of data?

    1. It depends...
      If you only messages with *only text* then you will need to send a lot of messages (let's say a bit less than 500,000,000 characters in total) before your data runs out. So, I doubt you will run out of data.

      If you send messages with *photos* attached then you will need to send a lot of photos (if each photo is 1MB, then you can send about 500 photos in total) before your data runs out.

      If you send messages with *video* files attached then... if each video is 5MB big, then you will be able to send about 100 videos in total before your data runs out.

      If you do a lot of voice calls, then... I'm guessing that if each 1 minute voice call uses about 1MB, then you will be able to voice call for about 500 minutes (= 8.33 hours) in total before your data runs out.

  30. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  31. If i call someone not on Wifi using whatsup? Will this use their data as well as mine?

    1. Yes, the WhatsApp app uses data to send and receive information.
      If you call (or send messages, or send photos) to someone then costs are incurred by both the sending and receiving persons.
      If both are on WiFi, then the costs are negligible
      If both are on mobile connections, then the cost is higher and incurred by both the sender and receiver.

      If one is on WiFi, the cost is negligible; if one is on a mobile connection, then the cost is higher and those mobile data costs are incurred by the one connected to mobile data.


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