6 ways to monitor internet bandwidth usage
As internet connections get faster and faster they enable use to do more on the internet. In the space of a few years we have gone from dial-up connections with a modem at just 56kbit/sec to always-on broadband at speeds of up to 20Mbit/sec.
This means that activities that were impossible before, such as watching high quality video and listening to music over the internet, are now accepted as just normal and they hardly raise an eyebrow. Except at your ISP perhaps.
They are struggling to cope with the bandwidth that people are using and they limit and cap heavy users, throttling their internet connection and even threatening to terminate their connection if they don't stop.
On the one hand we are encouraged to buy music music from online stores and download all our audio files andto listen to streaming music and internet radio stations. Television companies encourage us to catch up with programmes that we have missed by watching them online, streaming video websites encourage us to upload our videos and to view other peoples', we are egged on to upload our photos to online albums and to manage them and view them on the web, and we are swamped with companies offering online storage and backup tools that copy the valuable files and folders on our hard drives in case of a disk distaster.
All these activities consume huge amounts of internet bandwidth and your ISP might not like the amount that you are using each month. Are you going over the limit? Will your connection be capped or throttled?
Although some people have unmetered internet connections and can download as much as they want, others are capped at a certain level. At the cheaper end of the market there are internet deals that while costing very little, do impose limits on the amount of data that you are able to upload and download. You might be limited to 1, 5, 10, 15 or even 20Gb of data each month. A limit of 1Gb? Really? Actually, anyone with mobile broadband either with a desktop PC, or more commonly with a laptop computer, will definitely have a data limit. Some mobile broadband plans limit you to just 1Gb a month and there will be high charges for exceeding the limit. Even home users can be limited to 5-20Gb a month.
How many gigabytes or megabytes are left this month? Can you afford to watch that TV programme online that you missed or will it put you over the limit?
You obviously need to keep an eye on the amount of bandwidth you are using each month. Firstly, you can ensure that you don't go over the limit, and secondly, you can put off things till next month.
For example, if it's the last week of the month and you are near your limit, you could put off renting that high definition video until next week and the start of a new month.
Your ISP will soon complain and might even threaten to terminate your contract if you continue to use your unlimited internet as if it really was unlimited. This is because ISPs don't actually mean that your connection is unlimited, even if they say that it is in their adverts!
You wll find that there are clauses in the terms of your broadband contract that prevent you from using too much bandwidth and if you are deemed by your ISP to be an excessive user then the ISP could limit your connection speed to reduce the amount that you can download. It will be called something like a 'fair usage' policy and if the ISP thinks that you are using more than your fair share of the bandwidth then they have the right to terminate your connection. So even people on unmetered tariffs from their ISP need to watch their internet usage. It's impossible to say how much bandwidth usage is too much, but you should monitor your bandwidth and see how much you are using. If the figure looks high, such as a gigabyte a day, then watch out. Your ISP could throttle your connection.
Some ISPs do provide the means to monitor usage, but unfortunately, not all of them are so considerate.
You might find that your ISP has a customer log-in page where you can access your account and see your bandwidth usage.
The ISP might even provide a utility that you can run on your computer. This will sit on the desktop or in the Dock or with your other Dshboard gadgets and display internet usage.
Whether you have a bandwidth limit or not, you should check out what facilities your ISP provides for monitoring your usage. If no facilities are provided you can use one of the utilities mentioned below. The screen shot here is of SurplusMeter, which is one of the few free ones, so you might want to try it first.
Minimise internet usage
You could disable images in Safari, Firefox or whatever web browser you use. In Firefox go to Preferences, Content and clear the tick against Load images automatically. There's a useful Exceptions button that allows you to specify websites that are allowed to show images. Safari has a Disable Images option on the Develop menu (go to Preferences, advanced and tick Show Develop menu iun menu bar).
If you have mobile internet with a laptop computer and a low bandwidth limit you might want to use these settings permanently and to just turn on pictures when you actually need them.
That's a bit of a pain in the neck, but the only way around the problem would be if your router can monitor the bandwidth. All internet traffic must go through the router no matter which Mac it is on. However, not all routers have this facility.
Another potential problem to watch out for is Mac to Mac transfers. These utilities shouldn't really be called internet bandwidth usage monitors and they are actually network monitors. They track incoming and outgoing data and they don't distinguish between Mac to Mac file transfers over the local area network and internet traffic. If you are going to transfer files from one Mac to another you must temporarily disable the monitor on both Macs. This goes for streaming music and video too. If you don't, the monitor will record it along with the regular internet usage and it will therefore over-estimate the bandwidth used.