How to save your broadband bandwidth
WORRIED ABOUT EXCESS USAGE CHARGES? HERE’S HOW YOU CAN DEAL.
UNFORTUNATELY, WE DON’T yet live in an era of universal unlimited bandwidth. Sure, some landline broadband plans have unlimited data, but mobile data is still very restricted, and many other broadband plans still have caps applied to their data.
If going over your limit is a real threat, then there are some pretty basic things you can do that will massively cut down on your broadband usage. The biggest culprit is almost always streaming video, with BitTorrent coming in a close second. This month, we’re going to look at how you can shave data usage off those services.
By default, YouTube videos will go to the highest resolution that your bandwidth can support — often 1080p — which sucks down huge amounts of data. If you drop back to 480p, you can actually reduce data usage by about two-thirds. For example, a 60MB video will drop to about 20MB, but will still be eminently viewable.
To do this while watching a video, click or tap on the settings icon, then switch the resolution from ‘Auto’ to 480p.
Unfortunately, YouTube has removed the ability to select resolution automatically, so you have to do that every time you watch. Thankfully, there is a solution in the form of browser add-ons called Auto HD for YouTube (in the Chrome Web Store) and YouTube High-Definition (on Firefox’s Add-ons). These add-ons let you select a preferred YouTube default resolution for all videos.
Like YouTube, Netflix defaults to the highest resolution available. At 1080p, that works out to about 3GB per hour, and at UHD it’s 7GB per hour. So you can see that binging eight seasons of Gilmore Girls in FullHD can really gut your bandwidth (we did the maths — by our reckoning, it would work out to about 350GB of data to watch all of Gilmore Girls in 1080p).
If you drop back to medium settings, however, the data rate drops to about 0.7GB per hour. That’s still DVD-quality. And you can set it to default to that rate in the account settings. Each user can have different default settings, too (so you might want to set it just for the kids).
To set it, log onto Netflix in a web browser, then choose a profile. Mouse over the user name on the top right, then select Account. Under Profile, you’ll see an option called ‘Playback settings’. Click on it and select Medium and save.
BitTorrent can also be a major bandwidth sucker. Obviously, a download can’t use less data than the size of the file you’re downloading, but you can limit the amount of data it uploads. You can also stop it from continuing to upload once the download completes.
In μTorrent, click on the gear icon to bring up Preferences. The first thing we want to do is limit the upload rate. Click on Bandwidth, and in the box for Global Upload Rate limiting, set a number that you think is reasonable given your internet connection’s upload speed. We wouldn’t go less than 20KB/s, since that might cause your downloads to have serious problems, but on a service with 1Mbps uploads (like most ADSL services), 40–100KB/s is reasonable.
Now we want to stop μTorrent from continuing to upload once a Torrent is done.
Click on Queueing. Change the Seeding goal minimum ratio to 10% or 20%. Then check the box that says ‘When μTorrent Reaches the Seeding Goal Limit the upload rate to:’, and make sure that the box says 0.
This means that, when the torrent is done downloading, it will continue uploading only until the seeding goal (for example, 10% of the download file size) is reached. More often than not, a torrent will stop uploading immediately when it finishing downloading.
Let’s face it, you’re not the irresponsible one. The biggest culprit in massive broadband excess charges is nearly always kids sitting and watching Twitch and YouTube to all hours.
There are ways to stop them. For a start, many routers now have parental control tools, where you can limit internet access times and possibly even total data usage on a device-by-device basis. This is a good place to start. You can try using the router manufacturer’s mobile app, or logging on to the router’s admin page and looking for parental controls.
Some routers are more sophisticated than others. Most allow you to set access times on a device by device basis, so that you can at least restrict the times that your kids can access the internet. Some also let you set restrictions on apps, and in rare cases, you can actually monitor and limit actual total data usage on a user-by-user basis.
That last option is rare, however, and not available on the stock firmware of any of the major consumer router vendors. If you want better monitoring of your kids’ activity, you’re better off with a solution like GlassWire ( www.glasswire.com).
GlassWire is a firewall and traffic monitor application available for Windows and Android. In addition to its firewall function (it replaces the Windows firewall), it also has a detailed traffic monitor with an alert system that can be set up to send a warning when a preconfigured threshold is reached. For example, you can configure it to send a warning when monthly data usage hits 100GB on the device it’s installed on. On Android, it will track mobile and Wi-Fi data separately.
Perhaps most usefully of all in a family scenario, GlassWire can be configured to monitor multiple GlassWire installations from a single PC. That way, you can install it on your kids’ PCs and keep an eye on their data usage from your own. It can also monitor data usage on your router.
As an alternative to GlassWire, you can also try NetWorx ( www.softperfect.com/ products/networx), another tool that can monitor internet usage both locally and on your router. It’s not a firewall like GlassWire, but it will monitor usage on multiple devices and send you alerts when configured thresholds are reached.