How Much Bandwidth Does Video Calling Use?

Video Call Bandwidth Fetaure

If you have a fast, unlimited internet connection, you probably don’t think twice about firing up an HD video call. When you run into slower connections or data caps, though, you probably start wondering just how much bandwidth video calls use and whether you really want to trade a few hours of browsing for a Zoom meeting. Bandwidth usage can vary dramatically depending on the app, quality, and participants, but it’s still possible to get a general estimate of how much you’ll use, especially if you change the quality settings of your video chat app so that they stay low.

How usage is measured

If you go on a video-chat app’s website, they generally measure bandwidth requirements in megabits per second, which isn’t that useful, given that we’re more concerned with how many megabytes we’re using over a series of minutes. Luckily, the math to convert between the two isn’t too complex.

Note: I’m using Mbps for megabits per second and MB/s for megabytes per second, just to differentiate them more easily.

Video Call Bandwidth Megabyte Megabitconversion

1 megabyte (MB) = 8 megabits (Mb)

Video Call Bandwidth Megabit Megabyte Conversion

1 megabit (MB) = 1/8 megabit (Mb)

That means if you see a number in Mbps, you can just divide it by 8 to get the equivalent MB/s.

To convert it into the more-usable minute unit of time, just multiply by 60. To convert to hours, multiply by 60 again.

Here’s a quick reference:

Megabits per second
(Mbps)
Megabytes per second
(MB/s)
Megabytes per minuteMegabytes per hour
1.1257.5450
2.2515900
4.5301800 (1.8 GB)
81603600 (3.6 GB)

Converting the Mbps you find in an app’s bandwidth recommendations to megabytes per hour will give you a general idea of how much data you’re likely to use in a video call, but not all calls are created equal.

Factors in video call data usage

Pretty much every major video-chat application has quality settings ranging from “atrocious” to “pretty clear,” and many of them employ algorithms that automatically adjust the quality based on your device and connection. The data difference between 360p standard definition and 1080p high definition is significant, though, with HD calls consuming two to four times as much bandwidth as SD calls. If you want to conserve your Internet, knocking down the quality to the lowest setting is a good way to do so.

Video Call Bandwidth Sd Vs Hd

Don’t forget, though, that data is moving in two directions during a video call: up and down. That makes video calls quite a bit hungrier than typical one-way video streaming, as you’ll typically be eating through double or more than double the bandwidth.

Video Call Bandwidthupload Download

Most video call apps use a minimum of about 500 kbps (3.75 MB/minute) for one-way standard definition calls and a maximum of around 1.8 Mbps (13.5 MB/s) for one-way high-definition video. Doubling those to account for the two-way flow, that’s a total of 7.25 MB/minute minimum, 27 MB/minute maximum.

For reference, a minute of 720p YouTube video typically consumes 20 to 30 megabytes, the average webpage just takes a megabyte or two to load, and playing a game online generally runs under 100 megabytes per hour. If you’re really in a bind with data, you may want to start having your meetings in your favorite MMORPG.

Adding extra people to the call also takes more data on the download side (you’re still just uploading one stream, after all), but how much extra depends on the app. As you’ll see below, Zoom handles group calls much more efficiently than Skype, though Skype apparently uses less bandwidth for 1:1 calls.

Screensharing is the least data-intensive task you can do on a video call, typically taking up less than 200 Kbps (1.5 MB/s).

How much bandwidth do Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime use?

Measuring exactly how much data is being used on a video call depends on a lot of different factors, which is probably why most programs release “minimum” and “recommended” numbers rather than usage estimates. However, converting Mbps to MB/s and using the “recommended” bandwidth to measure minutes and hours is a pretty safe way to estimate your traffic. However, you then have to multiply by two to account for both the upload and download traffic.

Video Call Bandwidth Reference Bandwidth Usage
My connection with no video chat apps running

There are many video calling apps, but Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime are some of the most popular and should give you a fairly good idea of what to expect from other apps as well.

Zoom

Video Call Bandwidth Data Usage Zoom
A 1:1 Zoom call–upload in green, download in red. The big dip is where I put Zoom in windowed mode, which dramatically decreases download.

The source data can be found on the Zoom support page.

DefinitionRecommended up/downTotal MB/minTotal MB/hr
480p/Standard600/600 Kbps9540
720p1.2/1.2 Mbps181080 (1.08GB)
1080p1.8/1.8 Mbps271620 (1.62 GB)

For group calling:

DefinitionRecommended up/downTotal MB/minTotal MB/hr
480p/Standard800 Kbps/1 Mbps13.5810
720p1.5/1.5 Mbps22.51350 (1.35GB)
1080p3/3 Mbps452700 (2.7GB)

Another big perk of Zoom is that when you’re looking at a window in thumbnail mode, your download data usage will automatically drop to reflect the resolution you’re receiving.

Skype

Video Call Bandwidth Data Usage Skype
Can you guess which part is my Skype call?

Data on Skype’s bandwidth usage can be found on their support page.

DefinitionRecommended up/downTotal MB/minTotal MB/hr
480p/Standard300/300 Kbps4.5270
720p500/500 Kbps7.5450
1080p1.5/1.5 Mbps22.51350 (1.35 GB)

For group calling:

PeopleRecommended up/downTotal MB/minTotal MB/hr
3512 kbps / 2 Mbps37.682260 (2.26 GB)
5512 kbps / 4 Mbps67.684061 (4.06 GB)
7+512 kbps / 8 Mbps127.687660.8 (7.66 GB)

Overall, Skype adds a lot of extra data when more people join, but for 1:1 conversations, it’s pretty lightweight.

FaceTime

There aren’t actually any official numbers for FaceTime, but it’s worth mentioning as it’s a popular app and something of an outlier in terms of data usage. Most measurements report that it uses about 3 MB of data per minute, or 180 MB per hour, which makes it a fairly economical video call option.

Bottom line: video calls use quite a bit of data

Statements about what constitutes “a lot of data” don’t tend to age well, and a gigabyte definitely isn’t as big as it was a decade ago, but video calls are still fairly heavy on the bandwidth. That’s mostly because you’re uploading quite a bit, which you don’t typically have to do with Netflix or YouTube.

The app you use can make a big difference, too, as some of them are pretty light on data when the conversation is 1:1 but tear through a lot more when participants are added (looking at you, Skype). That’s according to their official estimates, though. In my testing I’ve actually found bandwidth usage typically runs under rather than over. Your mileage may vary depending on connection, device, and how you’re using the call, however, so it’s best to assume the heaviest-usage scenario.

If you are on a limited data connection, you can also save your data by accessing low-bandwidth websites or limiting bandwidth for Windows updates.

Image credit: HD vs SD resolutions

Bandwidth data gathered using Bitmeter OS

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3 comments

    1. Hi Al! I wasn’t actually able to find any official numbers, but there are a lot of estimates on the Jitsi forums and they seem to hover around 3-5 Mbps per user (that includes both directions). That makes it a bit heavy, but usage appears to depend on a lot of different factors, so at lower qualities and with fewer participants it could easily be less than that.

      https://community.jitsi.org/t/bandwidth-cost-modeling/14762/27
      https://community.jitsi.org/t/jitsi-users-recommended-bandwidth-perf-for-a-jitsi-meet-server/12900/5
      https://community.jitsi.org/t/jitsi-bandwidth-requirements/19932/4

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