How to Make Your Data Cap Last

Data caps can be an annoying thing. Even today countless regions of the world are restricted access to truly unlimited connections, even though their data plans may say so. Most of the ISPs in such regions enforce what is known as a Fair Usage Policy (FUP) (or Fair Access Policy) which means that your ISP monitors your monthly data usage and once you have crossed an established limit your speeds are throttled (limited). Having your speed plummet when in the middle of binge streaming House of Cards can produce some rather unpleasant responses. It can feel like the rude jerking of a parachute that inevitably comes at the end of (almost) every skydiver’s journey. If you’re like me you spend your whole time within the data limit worrying about what you will do once your ISP decides to clamp down on your speeds. However, this needn’t be the case. In fact, with a few simple steps you can ensure that you get the most out of your limited quota every single time. In this post I’m going to detail some of the steps I take to make my monthly data cap last much longer than average, so without further ado let’s begin.

Step 1: Download GlassWire

This infinitely helpful tool comes free of cost and is quite possible the single most important piece of software you could install for preserving data. GlassWire is a firewall and network monitoring tool that shows you exactly how much data you consume in total during a given session, which applications/processes/services consume said data and even gives you the option to block applications from accessing the Internet. Additionally, GlassWire also alerts you when an application attempts to connect to the Internet for the first time and adds it to a list of apps and processes that have connected in the past. This gives you a granular level of control over which processes are accessing the Internet and exactly how much data they are moving. It even detects hidden applications and background processes (such as automatic updates) and enables you to block them completely. All this is wrapped in a beautiful package with an elegant GUI that is very pleasing on the eyes.

The GlassWire UI

Step 2: Download Opera

Opera has come a long way over two decades and while the road has been bumpy to say the least, the latest iteration of Opera is fast, stable and incredibly akin to Google Chrome (the fact that it uses Google’s own Chromium source code probably has something to do with it). But the main reason I’m bringing up Opera is because of the one feature it has built-in that most browsers don’t, a data-compression proxy. Dubbed “Opera Turbo”, this DCP makes use of the same data compression technology utilized in Opera’s mobile browsers to save you bandwidth. What Turbo does is simple, usually when you try to access a site your computer sends a request to your ISP, which in turn sends a request to the desired website’s server, the server then sends the required web page to your ISP which forwards it to your web browser. With Turbo enabled, your ISP now sends a request to Opera’s servers, which then send a request to the desired site’s server, the web page sent back goes through Opera’s servers, where various elements of the web page (images and such) are compressed or converted to another format, before being sent to your ISP. This means that the amount of data passing through your ISP on its way to you is reduced, resulting in less data downloaded and more bandwidth saved. As an added perk, since they share the same source codes, all extensions that work on Chrome (and some that don’t) work equally well on Opera.

Opera Turbo

Step 3: Get Hide.me

If the though of Opera’s servers (or anyone for that matter) being able to see all the sites you access bothers you then it might be worth your time to invest in a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. VPNs spoof your IP address, making you truly anonymous on the Internet, effectively denying any website the ability to track your physical location or actual identity. Additionally, VPNs also allow you to access content that may be blocked or banned in your respective regions thus giving you a truly free Internet. Such a VPN is Hide.me. There are three reasons for my recommendation of Hide.me over other viable VPNs. First, it’s available for free, secondly, it’s dead simple to set up and most importantly, it’s fast. All you need to do is register with Hide.me, download their client and install it and you are ready to go. Simply run the client and let Hide.me switch your IP for you in a matter of seconds. As a testament to Hide.me’s excellent infrastructure, you won’t even feel you are part of a private network as speeds are almost identical to your native connection. The only drawbacks for free users is that Hide.me enforces a monthly data cap of 2 GB and maximum speeds are not a guarantee at all times, additionally you are not allowed to choose a location of your choice. If you feel these are too stringent you can also try CyberGhost, another free VPN client that does not enforce a data cap but only allows free users to surf the web for three hours at a time (though you can reconnect almost instantly but sometimes you may have to wait in a queue). Furthermore, CyberGhost’s client is a tad bit slower and more resource heavy that Hide.Me’s.

Hide.Me’s Client

Step 4: Adopt the Following Net Etiquette

Saving data is all about sacrifice and discipline. In a way it’s almost like an art form, in that technology can help you to an extent but a true mastery of technique only comes from within. The following steps should be habituated for the best result.

  • Disable Auto-Update: Disable automatic updates on all your devices including phones, tablets, game consoles and applications. Auto updates are one of the biggest reasons people wake up and find they have expended their quota without lifting a finger. Disabling auto updates can have two benefits. First, not all updates are good; in fact, it is not at all uncommon for companies and vendors to roll out updates that completely break a perfectly functioning device or application, leaving you hoping the next update will fix it. Secondly, it allows you to only update the application or devices you want (and are sure of updating) to be updated, not to mention it saves data.
  • Disconnect: If you are not sure whether a particular device has auto update or not the safest option would be to disconnect it when not in use. Less connections to the same modem ensures that the bandwidth isn’t split by the modem to accommodate for all extra devices.
  • Don’t Delete Cache: Cache are bits of data (such as images) your browser downloads and keeps locally from a website so that it doesn’t have to re-download them every time you connect to the site. Cache is meant to speed up the time it takes to load a previously visited web page and save bandwidth in the process. Deleting cache causes your browser to download all the necessary files from a site anew, leading to increased data consumption.
  • Avoid Video and Audio Streaming: I know, I know, what about binge streaming House of Cards. The problem with streaming is that once you stream an episode it’s instantly deleted from cache and if you wish to re-watch it you’ll have to download the whole thing again. This obliterates your quota. If you must stream, find a way to download what you stream, that way you’ll have the video with you permanently for re-watching. For services like Netflix, us a simple desktop recording software to capture your shows in full-screen. (Do keep in mind that while recording these shows for yourself isn’t strictly illegal, redistributing them most certainly is and is not endorsed by me.) For audio, almost all streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have a quality setting that can be adjusted to suit your speed and need. Change the quality of your stream from ‘high’ to ‘medium’ or even ‘low’.
  • Limit Video Calls and VoIP Services: VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol allows users to communicate using audio messages over the Internet and Video Conferencing does the same with live video. Applications like Skype, Facetime and Viber enable you to do just that. While voice calls don’t consume much bandwidth, video calls can really eat up your quota if prolonged. That isn’t to say you should have to sacrifice seeing your loved ones over the Internet in the name of saving bandwidth though. If the service you use allows you to adjust the quality of the video then try setting it to something lower. Additionally, try to use voice calls whenever necessary and in all other cases opt for instant messaging (IM).
  • Enable QoS: Quality of Service (QoS) is a feature that is available in almost all modems today. QoS allows you to set certain restrictions on data usage within your network so if you share your network with others who happen to be network hogs you can throttle their connection from your modem. This way you can stop other users from burning through your quota before you even get a chance to fully utilize it. To enable QoS check your modem manufacturer’s website for details.
  • Limit Cloud Backups: Usually data caps affect both download and upload which means that you have a quota for both and exceeding either one could end you up with a throttled connection. This means that you might want to hold off on uploading your entire blu-ray quality Star Wars collection. instead consult with your ISP on what your upload limits are and upload within your given quota. If you are unsure what your quota is and you’d like to be on the safe side, upload only the most important data such as crucial documents, personal photos and such.
  • Use a Metered Connection: Depending on your plan and your ISP it is possible for you to be charged extra for accessing the Internet beyond your data limit. in order to prevent this you will want to enable the Metered Connection feature included in Windows 8 and up. A metered connection sets a limit on the amount of data that windows apps and background processes are allowed to access. In other words, Widows will throttle itself to reduce the amount of data it consumes. For more information on Metered Connection and how to set it up click here.
  • Disable Torrent Clients: I’m not going to get into a debate of ethics here, if you use BitTorrent clients then it would be in your best interest to completely turn them off when not using. Torrents work by giving and taking, while you are downloading a torrent file you are not downloading the file whole, instead you are downloading it in pieces from numerous sources. As you download a “chunk” of data, BitTorrent will immediately begin uploading (seeding) that chunk to other BitTorrent users. Left unattended, your BitTorrent client could end up uploading gigabytes of data without you ever knowing about it (as download speed is rarely affected by uploading) and subsequently blow right past your established quota. Some torrent clients have a tendency to run in the background even after you close them, so double check with the Task Manager or with GlassWire to ensure that they are completely terminated.
  • Install Ad-Blocking Extensions: You may not think so, but a sizable chunk of data is eaten by those flashy ads that assault your browser on almost every website. Gone are the days where ads used to be simple images with a back-link. Today ads employ JavaScript, HTML5 and Flash (among others) to make their ads flashier, more interactive and more obnoxious than ever. The problem is, in addition to being annoying they also gobble up data. Extensions like AdBlock, AdBlock Plus and uBlock prevent ads from loading by modifying the content policy settings of your browser’s web engine. Basically it tells your browser what to load and what not to load.
  • Scan for Viruses and Malware: Use an anti-virus/malware software to run a scan of your computer for malicious software. Malwares, spybots, adwares and the like will likely send information back to their sources. If you have followed ever other step and you still find your data usage increasing at an unusual rate it might be due to the presence of such harmful software needlessly downloading or uploading data without your consent. As a common security measure, always keep an anti-virus handy and updated to the latest virus definitions.

Conclusion:

Becoming miserly with your KB’s and your MB’s may mean the sacrifice of some luxuries and some extra steps and responsibilities to consider but the result is the ability to browse and use your high-speed connection longer and more optimally. Until a day comes when Fair Usage Policies become a thing of the past (at least when it comes to data caps) those of us who want to fully utilize fully what is truly ours will have to go the extra mile and pinch every last byte.

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