Ten easy steps to avoid going over your data cap

Data caps from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are pretty generous these days. On normal consumer-grade plans, Xfinity allows 1.2 terabytes (TB) per month, while Uverse has a 1 TB cap. That’s a lot of data moving in and out of the home.

But if you add up videoconferencing + working from home + school from home + streaming video + online gaming … it’s easy to approach or go over that cap.

Background on data caps

For Xfinity, if you exceed 1.2 TB of data in a month, you get a free pass the first time. The next month it happens, you’ll get an additional 50 GB added automatically for an additional $10. Here’s the quick math … if you normally pay about $60 a month for Internet data, think of it as 5 cents per GB for the first 1.2 TB. When you enter into the overage, the cost is 20 cents per GB.

To compare the most common providers in west Michigan, Uverse has a 1 TB data cap. Currently, Spectrum does not enforce data caps due to an FCC ruling, though the company is seeking permission to do so.

In all cases, be sure to check with your provider to determine your data cap. In your account info, you’ll also be able to see your data usage for the current and past months.

How to track the data usage

Here’s the tough part in all of this. There is no easy way to track how much data different devices in the home are using.

Since your router and modem funnel all the data, that would be the best place to start measuring. Many routers and modems, whether supplied by your ISP or purchased on your own, include software and smartphone apps that let you see how much data overall is being used. But sadly, none of them let you drill into the data details of specific devices. Regardless, the data usage should match up closely to what you get directly from your ISP.

There are some third-party software options that can be installed on the router to track data usage from individual devices. From what I’ve seen, they’re pretty complicated to set up and use, so there are none that I’d recommend for typical home usage.

Another option is to look at installing software on different devices. Sadly, this is also a dead end. With such a wide variety of products (Apple, Windows, Android, etc.), there is no singular solution.

Bottom-line, the best option we have today is to …

1) know your overall data usage,
2) understand how much data is used by different activities,
3) make simple adjustments.

How does data get used?

Streaming video, especially 4K video, consumes the most Internet data. To give some perspective on how much data various activities consume, check out the chart below. It’s based on the idea that if you only did ONE of these activities, you’d consume all 1.2 TB of monthly data your plan allows.

Keep in mind, you probably have multiple people, TVs, devices, game systems, etc. in your home. Be sure to factor that into your data consumption. Also, the data rates shown here are an average — yours may be a bit higher or lower.

4K streaming video 7 GB/hour 5.7 hours
HD (1080p) streaming video 2 GB/hour 20 hours
HD (720p) streaming video 1.5 GB/hour 26.6 hours
Multi-player gaming 1.1 GB/hour 36 hours
Zoom/Facetime 400 MB/hour 90 hours
Advanced gaming 300 MB/hour 133 hours
Streaming Music 150 MB/hour 266 hours
Social Media 150 MB/hour 266 hours
Basic web browsing 25 MB/hour 1,600 hours
Basic gaming 15 MB/hour 2,666 hours
* To use up a month’s worth of data (1.2 TB), you’d need to do this activity for the indicated number of hours per day.

How to save your data

There are many simple ways to save your Internet data. Find the ones that apply to you and fit in with your situation.

Stop streaming before turning off your TV

Return to the Home screen of streaming devices to stop video streaming.

This is one of the simplest and most overlooked solutions. If you simply turn off the TV when you are done watching TV through YouTube TV, Hulu, Netflix, etc., your streaming video device continues to play streaming video in the background. By default, this can keep going for many hours until the device asks if you are still watching.

Instead, you should stop the stream by either pressing the Pause button or the Home button on your device’s remote control. The Pause button simply stops the video from streaming. The Home button, regardless of Roku, Firestick, or Apple TV, returns you to the main screen where no video plays.

Reduce the streaming quality

Most people can’t see much of a difference between 1080p or 720p, except on the largest of HDTVs. Both HD signals look nice and clear, especially on TVs smaller than 45 inches.

In many cases, 4K video really looks fantastic. But save this bandwidth hog for special viewing occasions, and stick with the normal HD signals for daily watching.

Streaming devices, such as Roku, Firestick, and Apple TV, all give you the option to set your video quality. To enable this, head over to Settings on your device. Then look for Display or Video.

Do you have unlimited cell phone data?

Turning off cell phone WiFi can reduce your home WiFi usage.

If your cell phone plan includes unlimited data, it might be worth using that data at home when you’re using a cell phone for streaming music, Internet browsing, or social media. Since cell phones are one of the most viewed screens, this could really add up over the course of a month.

To enable, simply turn off WiFi on your cell phone when you’re at home.

Download music instead of streaming all the time

Save your favorite songs and playlists to your device or computer and play them to heart’s content knowing they’re not being streamed over and over.

Uploads count against the data cap too

Keep in mind, all your uploads count too. This includes your video camera during Zoom calls, and video and photo sharing to social media.

Don’t forget about automatic cloud storage

Cloud storage solutions like Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud can consume quite a bit of bandwidth depending on what you’re backing up. (By the way, backing up is a must-do, so don’t let these suggestions prevent you from backing up!)

Another bandwidth bandit that people don’t think of is photo/video syncing across devices. Smartphones are typically set to sync photos to the cloud or other devices when they are attached to WiFi. If people in your home take a lot of photos and videos, that can be a lot of data moving around.

Stop the autoplay of social media videos

Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms are normally set to autoplay videos in your feed. They do this to attract more attention to the feed so you’ll engage more with the platform. These video-enabled feeds use much more bandwidth. Try turning off the autoplay feature and see if you like it.

Make web browser adjustments

Though this may not be a huge bandwidth saver, you may find your laptop or desktop computer runs faster with a few tweaks. There are extensions for Chrome and Firefox that stop autoplay of videos and stop activity on tabs that aren’t in use.

Doorbell and security camera video

Security cameras and doorbells can consume a lot of data on uploads. Consider recording with some of the lower options that still work for you. This might include recording only while you are away, only when it detects motion, and/or reducing the quality or bandwidth.

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