Ways to reduce domestic data usage

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Tuesday, 17 September, 2019

In every house and flat across the United Kingdom, electronic devices are stealthily uploading and downloading data.

We often don’t realise they’re doing it, and few of us measure how much internet bandwidth is being consumed at any given moment.

Then again, it’s easy to be complacent about upload and download volumes nowadays, given the growing prevalence of unlimited-bandwidth broadband contracts.

In the dark days of dial-up, every kilobyte of information sent and received made a difference to the amount of time users needed to wait for a page to finish downloading.

Nowadays, nobody really cares that an HD video stream requires up to ten times as much data as an SD version of the same file. Though perhaps they should.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have high-speed Fibre to the Premises broadband, unnecessary domestic data usage could be slowing down connections at peak times.

If you’re connected via an Openreach line – or signed up to a data limited broadband contract – those lost gigabytes might be harmful and costly in equal measure.

Fortunately, it’s possible to reduce domestic data usage with a few simple steps:

Turn off automatic updates. Some devices require regular updates, including smartphone operating systems and PC antivirus programs.

On the other hand, smart bathroom scales could probably survive without uploading information every time they’re stepped on.

Turn devices off when not in use. Computers and tablets are notorious for constantly sending and receiving data, even while they’re supposedly on standby.

You can eliminate endless checks for new messages and software updates by switching devices off when not in use.

Stream HD content sparingly. Platforms like Netflix and BBC iPlayer usually default to HD downloads, but it’s possible to request standard definition content.

Documentaries might justify being downloaded in full HD, whereas the snooker highlights will be perfectly clear in SD.

Disable file sharing. The golden age of P2P file sharing may be behind us, yet many people still rely on torrents to share content.

Ensure these programs don’t load up and run as soon as a computer is turned on, and don’t leave them running overnight or when the house is empty.

Pay attention to file sizes. Before downloading that new Steam game, or installing cloud-based work software onto your laptop, check file size information.

There might be less data-intensive versions of certain software packages available, which wouldn’t chew through as much bandwidth.

Disable automatic backups. Backing up data onto hard drives or USB sticks has fallen from favour, even though these backups can be conducted offline.

If you still prefer Dropbox to dongles, only upload the most important files.

Install antivirus software. A leading cause of unwitting domestic data usage involves malicious applications.

These redirect co-opted connections to attack servers or distribute spam mail. Antivirus software should prevent them from embedding themselves in the first place.

Stick to phone calls. Video calling platforms such as Skype are growing in popularity, but a one-hour video chat is capable of consuming almost 1.5GB of data.

Since most of us end each month with spare landline and mobile call time, it’s more efficient to ring people the old-fashioned way. Plus, video calls sometimes feel intrusive.

Strengthen WiFi security. Other people could easily hack into your WiFi network if the password isn’t strong.

Prevent unauthorised use by resetting both the WiFi router’s admin password and the wireless key, which ensures new devices are able to connect.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!