How to keep an eye on internet data usage

When signing up for broadband internet, you’ll find the majority of plans on the market have data limits, or download caps. These are specified amounts of internet data you can use before your provider either slows down your broadband speed, or starts charging for excess data usage.

Every time you go on the internet you are using data. For this reason it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your data usage.

Check your account regularly

After starting up a new broadband service you will have received a user name and password in order to access your account details. Most providers update your usage daily.

Generally your usage will be set out showing you how much data you’ve used in peak and off-peak periods, although some companies like Internode and BigPond only have one usage period running around the clock.

Your broadband provider will usually tell you how much data you’ve used in GB for that monthly billing period, what percentage of your total monthly quota you’ve used, and how much of the current billing period remains. This should give you a good idea about how to use your connection for the remaining days/weeks of the month.

For example, let’s say your peak period data limit is 10GB and your off-peak is 50GB. If you’ve used 9GB (90%) of your peak data and only 5% of your monthly billing period remains, you’ll need to stop downloading large files or watching internet TV in the peak time until the next monthly period begins. However, you can still download files overnight in the off-peak period.

There are several other factors to take into consideration before signing up to a plan, or deciding to change your internet usage habits. Here are a few of the most pertinent:

Shaping speeds

A shaping speed is the speed some internet plans are slowed down to when you reach your data quota. These speeds range from 64kbps (dial-up speed) to around 4Mbps (4,000 kbps), although the industry standards are usually 256kbps, 512kbps, or 1Mbps, depending on your normal speed and the provider you are with.

If your shaping speed is slowed down to dial-up speed this can have a terrible impact on your ability to fulfil online needs. This can be especially painful if your usual speed is ADSL2+, which travels at speeds of up to 24Mbps. However, if all you do on the internet is banking, email and general surfing, having your speed dropped from ADSL2+ to 1Mbps may not be much of an issue.

Excess charge rates

Some internet plans never slow down. Instead, these plans charge for excess data usage after you’ve reached and gone over your monthly limit. Excess charges can range from as little as 50 cents per GB to 15 cents per Mb ($150 per GB). If you sign up to a plan that charges an expensive excess data rate, it is in your best interest to ensure you check your usage daily. Adjust what you do online in accord with how much download quota remains.

Peak and off-peak usage times

If your data quota is split between peak and off-peak times it’s logical to try and share your usage between each period. Off-peak periods are usually overnight, so downloading movies and music on a timer is a great means of freeing up space in peak times during the day when you may want to stream internet TV or watch YouTube videos.

Uploads versus downloads

Some plans charge for both uploads and downloads, whilst others only charge for downloads (uploads are free). If you do a lot of uploading, like talking on Skype, putting photos onto your Facebook account, playing online video games, or peer-to-peer file sharing, your best option will be to go for a plan that only counts downloads.

Unlimited or large data plans

These days ADSL2+ broadband providers are starting to offer unlimited plans, or plans with huge amounts of data included (like 1 Terabyte!) A large data plan is essentially unlimited because the average user would never get close to using up their monthly quota. If you are a heavy internet user who downloads movies and music, streams internet TV, plays online video games, or does file sharing, you’ll probably want to find a plan with either a large limit or an unlimited data quota.