How to Conserve Data if You're on a Capped Data Plan
Not all of us in the world are lucky enough to live in the first world, where most people have access to cheap and even uncapped data. Not all of us are even lucky enough to get an ADSL cable put in so we have access to the internet.
Welcome to South Africa, where we are currently behind just about every other nation on the planet when it comes to affordable internet access – we were even said at one point to behind Ghana. You probably thought that was a disease of some sort up until now. But some of you might know of the place due to that lame joke that spread around during the 2010 FIFA World Cup after the country's team was out of the running: “They’ve Ghana way!”
Yes, there are plans for expansion so more people can get online. Along with the undersea fibre optic cables, there were promises that prices of data would probably drop, but they haven’t so far. They’ve just gone up, and gone up again, in fact. Telkom is raising the prices of ADSL, but subscribers are getting a bit of a line upgrade on the plus side. Some say that by 2030 all of us in South Africa – still alive, if we haven’t all been mugged or murdered by that time – will have internet access. But I wouldn’t be too sure about actually believing any of that – it’s 18 years until then; it’s been 18 years since democracy came in to being in SA, and look where we are… worse off than we were before, arguably.
So it might sound ludicrous to some of you who live abroad who are reading this, but maybe not all of us can afford to really splurge out on a large prepaid deal, or a contract deal – some of us might not even be able to pass a credit check. The standard with most cellular network providers, when you want an alternative to ADSL, or like to use mobile broadband instead of a fixed line, is 2GB per month, especially on contract. Some of you might recoil in horror when you see that, but you’d be even more surprised to learn what we’re paying for it. Prices are gradually coming down, though.
So you want to watch your data consumption. What can you do to make certain that you make it through the month without going outside of your allocated amount and paying ridiculous out-of-bundle (OOB) rates, or having to top up with more data that will cost more outside of a package deal?
"We are currently behind just about every other nation on the planet when it comes to affordable internet access – we were even said at one point to behind Ghana. Most of you reading this probably thought that was a disease of some sort up until now."
- Curb your surfing habits
You can’t go random surfing all the time, every day. You’ll have to save that sort of thing for once a week or the end of the month. Just be mindful not to leave it until the very last minute if you’re on a package where unused data doesn’t roll over at the end of the month to the next month – if you lose it, that’s wasted money. That data then gets resold to someone else.
- Enough with the questions!
Asking every conceivable question you have on your mind in order to find out the answer is going to sap your data, particularly when visiting multiple websites in order to obtain the answer – and you may not even find it.
If you have a question about a medical condition, refer to a medical book of sorts, or if you want to know how to spell a word, know more about its usage, or find synonyms or antonyms for it, use a dictionary or a thesaurus, whether it be software on your PC, or an actual book. Have a look through your own personal library of books if you have one, and you may be surprised to find one that may have the answer you're looking for and tell you everything you need to know about such and such a subject. Or you could visit the library or buy a book on a subject. Or you could get out that Britannica Encyclopaedia DVD that your parents gave you for Christmas. Chances are it will be better researched than something you see on WikiAnswers. Yes, it may take more time – it isn't instant. But at least it won't use up as much data.
- Avoid flash, graphics, and ad-intensive websites
Some websites are built with a lot of images and ads, too. This causes the page to take longer to load, and will eat up data quickly. YouTube is a prime example of such a website. You can literally go through gigabytes of data in a short amount of time.
- Run ad blocking software
Ads are annoying, but a necessary form of monetization for websites that provide their services for free. But there’s nothing wrong with blocking ads if they’re particularly annoying and make pages take ages to load. Ads are the chief cause of lag when it comes to page loading, and not to mention they can potentially be injected with malicious code. A well known ad blocker is Adblock Plus which is an addon for Firefox.
- Stop page loading
Some websites like Tumblr can eat up data if you don’t actually physically click on the stop loading icon, which is usually somewhere at the top, over to the right, next to the URL bar. As long as you have links that will lead you to the resources on the site that you need, you can just follow those. If the buttons you need to press rely on scripts to load or to be enabled (a pain if you have NoScript running), then you’ll have to load the page again anyway. Some sites will just resume loading or refreshing no matter how many times you click stop, or when you get to the bottom of the screen, particularly with sites like Facebook, tumblr, Twitter and Flickr, it scrolls automatically to allow for more results. NoScript, another Firefox addon, can stop this from occurring.
- Stick to the first page of search engine results
Instead of going through pages and pages; if you don’t find what you want, then just do another search with different terms that will hopefully bring up what you’re looking for.
- Limit text and images shown per page in search results
In Google search and other search engines, you can specify how many items should be shown in search. This is particularly useful if you don't want hundreds of thumbnails of photos or pictures being loaded and eating up data.
- Have the correct bookmarks
You’ll waste a lot of time and data loading pages from bookmarks if they don’t lead you to the exact page you want. Bookmark the exact pages you’ll want to visit again. So if you want to get to the sign up/login page on a website, then don’t bookmark the home page, for instance. Also bookmark pages with HTTPS all ready in the URL, instead of having to add it manually every time. Or alternatively, use a browser add-on like HTTPS Everywhere which will force HTTPS if a website actually uses it.
- Subscribe to RSS feeds or newsletters
Instead of visiting a website continually to check for updates, rather subscribe to their RSS feed if available. It does take up data, but less than going to the actual website, and they tend to update automatically unless you specifically set it not to. Then you can scan through the news items that interest you and you're done. A lot of websites either choose - or because they haven't bothered to change it - full syndication rather than the short version, so their articles will appear almost in their entirety depending on the service you use to subscribe. Others might give you a short introduction before asking you to visit the website for more information.
Newsletters are something you subscribe to and will arrive in your email, usually with the latest and hottest news from a website. They will more often than not have brief updates and short introductions with links back to the website. That's why RSS is arguably better when it comes to conserving data. RSS feeds are also easier to unsubscribe from than newsletters.
But what if a website does not utilise RSS? Never fear, because there's a browser add-on for that too, called Page2RSS, which will allow the syndication of static pages when updated.
- Have a plan of attack
Almost as bad as surfing aimlessly, is not having a plan to go along with. Know where you have to go online and what you want to do. Don’t click on every single link, load every page, if it’s not the place you want to go, or the resource you need. Even have a list in a text file of sites you want or need to visit and what you want to do there, and deviate as little as possible from it. Bookmarks in an organised fashion will help here too.
- Don’t mess up your logins
If you keep getting your username or password wrong, it makes the page reload instead of letting you in to the website you want to access. Know your passwords well, and you won’t have to reload pages, fill in captchas or ask for your passwords to be sent to your email account, forcing you to then log in to your email account or download your email again.
Don't download all your email, particularly if your ISP doesn't support spam filtering. You can set your email client to only display the headers of your messages, and then you can download the messages you want, and just disregard the others. Otherwise you could use a webmail service like Gmail instead, and then you can just access your email online, and you won't have to waste data downloading it.
- Keep your system free of malware
There are types of malware out there that can steal bandwidth or data. It’s best to have your defences up and scan your system at least once a week with a couple of recommended programs.
- Avoid P2P software
P2P software can often be the culprit when it comes to bandwidth or data theft. This might be due to the nature of P2P programs and how they operate, but also because of the increased risks of malware infections.
- Turn off automatic updating of programs
Many programs have by default an option that will allow them to automatically check for and even download updates. Some check once a month; others every day. To save on data, you can disable the automatic updating process. You can then check manually every now and again, at your leisure. Manual checks can often be more accurate than automatic checks anyway – several automatic updaters belonging to software I use personally don’t notify you of new versions when they are live.
- Turn off automatic backups
Some devices by default have automatic backup enabled, where your data is backed up to a remote site. This is called "Cloud storage". Some internet security programs or other software may have this feature too. Unless you want this to take place, make sure to disable it if is on by default, or just leave it off.
- Opt to download full standalone installers instead of web or online installers
Standalone installers may be larger to download, using up more of your data, but there are at least one or two reasons why they are preferable to web installers. With web installers that you run while connected to the internet, there’s the possibility that your connection will drop and all the progress you made on your download or setup is lost – forcing you to start from scratch. Also, if anything goes wrong with the setup and you need to reinstall the program, then it’s great if you have the full installer on your HDD, and that way you don’t have to go and run the web installer to get all the files again, using up even more data in the process.
- Check the download size of a file before downloading
The problem with most built in download managers in browsers is that they don’t tell you how big a download is before downloading. And a lot of websites don’t provide that kind of information either. With a program like Free Download Manager, or FDM for short, you can query the size or weight of the file before downloading. If the weight of the file is given on the website, then you can also cross-reference to check you are downloading the right file and not the wrong one.
- Careful of which programs you run
Some programs out there will use up a lot of data if you have them running while online – indeed some programs may require and internet connection in order to run or function correctly. These include programs such as Skype or a cloud-based anti-virus scanner (browser dependent or independent) such as Trend Micro Housecall. Just be aware that running these programs will eat up data – you may want to consider alternatives to these programs.
- Disconnect when not actively using the internet
Always make sure to disconnect from the internet when not actually using it for anything. Just because broadband is sometimes misleadingly referred to as an “always-on” connection, doesn’t mean you should treat it this way.
- Keep your modem’s password safe
Also keep the password or pin to your device, such as a modem or router secret. Only you should know it. This will stop others from being able to get online using your device, and using your data.
- Secure your wireless devices
Make sure to enable encryption on your wireless device (WPA2 is recommended – not WEP), and check your modem or router's security settings. Also see that you have at least one hardware firewall (SPI or NAT). Also change the default password on the device. If unsecured, a person can come along and commit data theft, even sitting in their car outside your house with a laptop and some programs on it that scan for unsecured wireless networks.
- Contact your ISP if data suddenly disappears without a trace
In some rare cases you may find that data disappears very suddenly, and you can't put your finger on how or where it went – it doesn't appear to have been your doing or anyone else's. Contact your ISP and provide the necessary details when requested to see if they can't sort out the issue.
- Be mindful of data roaming costs
This would apply to mobile broadband of some kind such as wireless or 3G/4G. You should check your handset such as the iPhone to see whether data roaming is enabled or not. When roaming is enabled, it means you can stay connected even when traveling outside of the coverage area of your network. But the bills you'll receive can be outrageous as there are different rates, which is why it's probably recommended that you either leave data roaming deactivated or use it very sparingly.
- Check your smart phone's settings
The iPhone is known to use up data, or airtime if you don't have a data bundle – so you'll pay out of bundle rates. Some have supplied tips that you can use to stop the data from being used, such as turning on Airplane mode, turning off Wi-Fi and notifications, or turning the phone off completely. But others say that none of it will help seeing as the iPhone sends information to Apple, and you can't opt out. One of the chief culprits other than notifications seems to be the weather app that automatically updates. Some smart phones you can opt out and other smart phones don't seem to do this at all in my experience.
- Work on your articles or blogs offline, not online
Instead of going to all the trouble of getting online and logging in to your account at tumblr or your HubPages account, for example and working on an article there, rather work on your articles offline. It’s silly to sit there for hours online working, where you could do this on your PC in your spare time. Programs like Windows Live Writer are excellent for blogging, because you can format everything the way you want it – the way it will appear on your blog – and then publish it later on, even remotely. Failing that, you can use Microsoft word or a Notepad text file, but I find these don’t always work well when it comes to keeping the style or format.
- Copy and paste notes rather than continually accessing them online
Let’s say you come across a piece of information online that you would like to keep. You can highlight that text 99% of the time and then copy and paste it in to a text file for review later. This can also be a time saver if you don’t have a lot of time to waste reading. And it will also save your data because you don’t have to keep visiting the same resource all the time. Keeping notes for personal use is okay. If it’s someone else’s work there’s no real way they can know about it. But this is not to say one should go copying and pasting text that doesn’t belong to them and redistributing it elsewhere, because that is plagiarism or content theft, and that is not okay.
- Buy games that don't require Steam or any sort of online activation/DRM
I tend to avoid games that are Steamworks titles or require constant internet connection. Going online for a verification check once is fine, but having to contend with an always on DRM "solution" is not on. I also don't go in for these games that make you download a lot of the base content that should really be included in the package that you bought.
- LAN instead of playing online
It will be infinitely cheaper for you to play multiplayer titles by LAN, or Local Area Network, where you just connect up using cables, rather than all playing online. Not to mention the lag rate would be reduced. You'll need actual friends to do this though. Otherwise visit an event like RAGE, which happens annually in Gauteng, where there are massive LAN parties.
Tools to use to ensure you stay within your limit
- Use a download manager
In addition to the previously mentioned benefits of download managers and being able to query the file size of a download, download managers also store file names and sizes, so you can add them up, probably with a calculator – you most likely have one in the operating system you have. Free Download Manager is a good one.
- Use a download accelerator
A download accelerator is by definition different from a download manager, although many use the terms interchangeably. Another term for it is a Web accelerator, which is probably more appropriate and accurate. A download accelerator really refers to the reduction in text image quality, or "data compression", on websites, allowing pages to load quicker, and potentially use up less data. Onspeed is probably the one example I can think of as I have experience with it.
- Use a bandwidth monitor
You’ll get programs that are called bandwidth monitors – these will calculate how much data is uploaded and downloaded, perhaps with filters for one day, week, month and year. You might be lucky to get this bundled with a connection manager that you use in order to establish a connection. In your connection manager, you may also actively be able to see how much data is being sent and received.
A program called MDMA is one of the best examples I can think of when it comes to third party bandwidth monitors, because it also gives you far more information on your current connection than most in-house developed software that might be bundled with modems or other hardware, too.
- Apache OpenOffice - The Free and Open Productivity Suite
Open Office also has a spreadsheet making program, and it's completely free!
- Do a balance check
There are a few ways to do a balance check. You can have a look at your bandwidth monitor and subtract what you’ve spent from what you’ve been allocated in a month to reach an estimated amount that will indicate how much you have left. You can keep a budget of sorts where you do all this math, in an spread sheet of sorts, like in MS Excel.
Another way is to actually call a number provided by your cellular network provider or ISP, and have an operator or machine inform you of how much data you have left. You can request a message be sent to you with the remaining data left. Your connection manager might even have the capability of doing a balance check.
Failing any of these methods, you can log in to your account online and see if that sort of information is shown – how much has been used, and how much is left. If your ISP is worth a damn, any activity on their website, including checking your account, will be zero-rated.
- Put a website on a blocked list
You are able to add websites to a list of blocked sites – websites that are not accessible from the system you access the internet from. So if it's one that you don't want anyone, including you, visiting for whatever reason, in this case in order to save data, you can add it here. You can find these blocked lists in your operating system, usually under Internet settings or something similar, or you might have access to it in your internet security program or firewall.
Do you have issues with conserving data?
© 2012 Anti-Valentine