Save Your Precious Bandwidth

Wynndel Wisdom

Bandwidth

Epson Sanner

Creston Timezone

Lots of times life doesn't exactly unfold as it should. One of those “odd happenings” is that just when the costs of wholesale bandwidth is dropping to pennies (or less) per gigabyte ISPs are instituting monthly, and even daily, usage caps. Should we be surprised that they are also promoting the use of bandwidth heavy applications? I'll leave the conspiracy theories for others ... for me just trying to do some less stupid things and maybe save a penny or two is tough enough.

So, here are a few ideas which may help you. But, remember, the Internet is supposed to be useful and fun. Don't let my ideas hinder your usage. Bitch to your ISP about that.

Streaming Radio

If, like me, you are a fan of streaming radio you might be able to save a few megabytes per month.

First off, many stream suppliers have a “high quality” and “low quality” stream. This refers to the amount of compression applied to the data. Try the low quality stream ... in most cases you'll not notice the difference, but your bandwidth monitor will.

Next, get in the habit of turning it off. Not the volume, but the stream. Leaving it running when you're not listening is much like leaving the lights on when you're not in the room.

Electronic Mail

I rely on email to communicate with my friends, fellow musicians, family, etc. However, the volume of that “real” mail pales in comparison to the ton of spam mail I get each and every day. On average, I estimate I download about 150 spam messages every day .... over a month's duration this adds up to about 30 to 50 megabytes of uselessness per month. Add in a bunch of silly pictures from well intentioned friends I just dump (the pics, not the friends), and the overhead used by inefficient encodings in email attachments, my total wasted bandwidth for mail probably approaches several hundred megabytes per month. The simple solution: gmail.

I've been using www.gmail.com for awhile now and am totally happy with the service. Sure, it does take a bit of getting used to the different interface ... but gmail is wonderful at sorting out spam! Remember, you only use bandwidth if you actually download the spam messages to your computer ... letting them sit on a gmail server costs you nothing.

You can continue to use your existing email address for incoming and outgoing mail. Have a look at the very useful help pages and you'll wonder why you've not switched sooner.

You no longer have to rely on your ISP handling your mail, the problems you incur with their outgoing mail problems and restrictions, or the possibility of snooping.

Best of all, gmail is free.

Videos

Not much you can do here to save bandwidth. After all, most videos are big.

But, if you do have the option to not use the high definition version, do so. For example, on youtube.com you can go to “my account -> playback settings” and select “I have a slow connection. Never play higher-quality video”. Other sites will have other options. Go look.

Did you know that if you've watched a bit of video and hit the Stop button the streaming (downloading) continues? Yup. You don't like the video but want to keep reading other stuff on the page, so you hit Stop ... and you continue to consume. Don't hit that nasty Stop ... instead move the pointer to the end of the video. It will download a little bit of the end, play that and stop. Simple.

Some people actually download videos off the Internet ... and use up that precious bandwidth. A video is going to be at least 1 gigabyte in size, probably 2 or 3. Assuming your are being charged $2.50 a gig that “free” movie might be costing you $5.00 or $10.00 in overage charges. And if you are grabbing a movie from a site like ITunes, the price may be much more than you figured. You're probably better (and cheaper) off to buy the video.

BitTorrent

People will tell you that you should never, ever, ever use an evil tool like BitTorrent. This includes download tools like “Azureus”, “uTorrent”, “Vuze” and many more. The idea behind BitTorrent is pretty simple: instead of downloading a file from a central site, you download the file in chunks with each piece coming from any number of sites around the world. And, while you are downloading, you are also “serving” out pieces of that file to the rest of the world.

So, if you have a good “seed” going out, your download might upload just as much as you got. Suddenly you're a wonderful Netizen, but your bandwidth usage is going up and up.

It gets even worse if you have a large directory set to share out files. Not only are you setting yourself up for a visit from the RIAA, but that precious bandwidth is going, going, gone.

Finally, if you do use BitTorrent do remember to disable it when you're not using it. Check your settings to make sure you didn't just push the application into the background!

Firefox Browser

I highly recommend the Firefox browser. Not only is it more secure, faster, and easier to use ... there are some nifty additions to it which saves more bandwidth.

Someone else beat me to the details on this one, so here's a link. The article covers FlashBlock, NoScript, AdBlock, etc. Good ideas, even if you don't need to save.

Routers

If you have a router with wireless access enabled, you better lock it down. Not only can a neighbour or someone sitting in a car in front of your house download things you don't want to think about, they can slow down your network ... and use much more bandwidth than you ever thought possible.

The recommended way to lock down wireless is by using a password (WPA2 is recommended) ... there are lots of sites on the Internet with instructions. One problem is that the password issue can become complicated and is not 100% secure.

An easier, and probably more secure method, is to limit access to your wireless by MAC address. On my DLINK router this is enabled in the Advanced->Network Filter menu. I prefer this method since it prevents anyone from accessing my network by guessing a password. The one downfall is that I can't just tell a guest a password, I need to add him or her to the permitted list in the router from my hardwired connection.

Please note that neither of the above methods is 100% secure. MAC addresses can be spoofed (ie. changed) on a computer trying to log into a network ... but to succeed, the intruder will need to know the MAC address of a permitted device. Passwords can be cracked ... especially if you use the name of your pet dog, etc. If you are totally paranoid, use MAC filtering and a password. And wear a tin-foil hat as well.

If you really want to know how complicated all this security stuff is, here's a document you might want to read: Hacking Techniques in Wireless Networks.

Viruses and Other Bugs In Your Computer

Okay, this is not a problem I have. I use Linux. And if you have a Mac you're probably safe as well. But, if you, unfortunate soul, use a Windows computer you probably have one or more pieces of spy-ware, viruses and god knows what else running on your machine. Get the latest programs to “scrub” your machine. Some of these “bad” programs will constantly access remote sites transferring data back and forth ... and you know what that means: bandwidth usage. And, perhaps, serious legal problems (like if it is transferring illegal porn, etc).

Closing Thoughts

If you have other ideas please pass them along. I'll add them here.

And if you want to advocate for what is right, and everything else good then talk (nicely) to your ISP. Bandwidth is cheap and if you are paying for it you are probably getting hosed.

In researching this article I see references to the actual wholesale costs of bandwidth in the US ranging from $0.10 to $0.30 per gigabyte ... when ISPs are charging several dollars for this same commodity someone is getting screwed (unfortunately, if you are dealing with a small ISP, not a national carrier, it might be that you aren't the one, but rather the middleman ...).

I'm writing this in the spring of 2009. Unfortunate that it's necessary ... I believe that by connecting the world we might end up with some goodness going around. Do what you can to help make it so.

The entire contents of this article are (C) Copyright Bob van der Poel. All rights reserved.

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This page "savebandwidth.html" was last modified on Thu May 12 18:42:42 2016