The unthinkable happened last week. My home’s internet connectivity snapped. The kids lost access to school, the wife and I got locked out of work. With entertainment options limited too, we were all at a bit of a loss. I’m the family tech guy, so the family was looking to me for answers. Whatever had gone wrong?
It turned out the “Unlimited Plan” I had signed us up for comes with fine print. When it crosses a certain threshold, the telecom company retains the right to throttle speeds until the next billing cycle. Now that all of us work, study, entertain and socialise online, from home, consumption had shot up. We’d breached the limit. Our options now included buying a temporary booster pack or upgrading to a new plan.
I purchased a booster and simultaneously started looking into how much data we were consuming, and why. Things began to fall into place. We’re all taking cheap bandwidth for granted, I realised, and do not any longer follow best practices when online.
Most of my family’s bandwidth consumption was taken up by video—classroom sessions, work meetings, get-togethers. Was it necessary to do it all in high-definition video though? Of course not.
On most of the video-calling apps we use, the default is set to 720p. With everyone logged on over hours, this consumes a heck of a lot of bandwidth. When reduced to 360p, it saves much bandwidth. What matters eventually to people at the other end is that we are seen and heard, and 360p is more than enough for that. We’ve all now made the switch.
There are major invisible irritants too, I discovered. Most of us have messaging apps such as WhatsApp, MS Teams and Slack fired up on phones and desktops both, and these are apps that consume bandwidth even when they’re idle, just to refresh in the background.
Consider WhatsApp. On average, a five-minute video call can use up to 5MB of data. Idling on both desktop and phone, it consumes twice the bandwidth, just to stay idle. This doesn’t make sense. As a thumb rule, then, disable these apps on at least one of the two devices. All the saved bandwidth will adds up in the long run.
Compel apps to consume less data too. On an iPhone, go to Call Settings and turn on the Low Data Usage option. On Android devices, choose the Use Less Data setting for calls. Since I made these changes, I have noticed no perceptible difference in speed or the quality of calls.
Don’t lose sight either of cross-trackers, adware, and potential malware. They’re all over, tracking everything we do and sucking up bandwidth as they do this. One of the niftiest tools I’ve come across to deal with the problem is a plug-in called Ghostery. Available for all internet browsers, it can be deployed on the desktop and phone with a single click. This kills ads, prevents cross-tracking, and makes browsing the internet safer and faster.
The thing about cross-trackers is that they lie embedded in ads on websites, as well as in a lot of the newsletters we subscribe to. They contain code that lets them read our email, understand our preferences and then serve us targeted ads. I can’t express how much I hate anyone peering into my inbox. That is why I pay ₹900 each year to Stoop Inbox for an email address that I use for all my subscriptions and purchases. It prevents cross-tracking and helps protect my privacy online.
While on the subject of cross-tracking, I figured this out a little late and regret that quite a bit. Using your real identity to post reviews on platforms such as Amazon is a bad idea. There are “scrapers” that browse these reviews and then work to spam you with marketing posts. If you haven’t got on the review bandwagon yet, don’t. If you plan to leave reviews, mask your identity.
But first, turn down those HD settings. All indicators are it’s just a matter of time before telecom companies hike prices further.