Many Internet service providers (ISPs) have decided that there will be no more free lunches for consumers. Unlimited bandwidth is all but impossible to provide, and so many ISPs have instituted a monthly flat cap on bandwidth. Save money by the megabyte on your Internet bill by learning how to monitor your bandwidth. This is particularly important when you have a shared connection.
Bandwidth monitoring via your computer
It is a simple affair to install bandwidth-monitoring software on your computer so that you can keep track of data consumption. Keep in mind that this won’t track bandwidth usage by smartphones, tablets or similar devices. For Windows, Networx, NetLimiter and Freemeter are free. With NetLimiter, a paid pro version is available. OS X options include SurplusMeter, iStat Pro and Activity Monitor. Linux users have free options like Ifstat, BandwidthD and Darkstat.
Regardless of platform, each program will monitor bandwidth usage on a single computer. Add iOS and Android devices to your network usage and you have to try something else. Many data usage trackers exist for each mobile platform, but they don’t draw a distinction between local area network (LAN) traffic between devices in a network and actual traffic to and from the Internet.
Monitoring at the router
A more accurate way of monitoring bandwidth is to do so at the router level. The built-in firmware of many routers allow for traffic monitoring, and can even be configured to take a flat cap into consideration. Once a user hits the cap, the router can automatically disable the Internet connection so that the bill doesn’t skyrocket. Routers that don’t have this capability built in can still be monitored with a few handy hacks:
- Replace the stock router firmware with DD-WRT. Check online to see if your router brand is supported, first
- Tomato works with a number of routers that DD-WRT does not. How-To Geek has published a guide about how to install this bandwidth monitoring firmware
Ask your ISP
Ultimately, even your own data consumption estimate is meaningless when compared with your ISP’s official total. As such, it can be a very good idea to use an ISP’s consumer web portal to obtain the monthly total. Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, Charter, Rogers, Bell and many other ISPs offer this feature to customers. Some are more detailed than others, and will most likely require that the customer log in before the information can be accessed. Make sure you know what your cap is, and what your ISP charges per megabyte over the cap.
Verizon does not currently have a bandwidth cap in the U.S., and as such, it does not provide usage statistics. However, rest assured that an abnormally high spike in bandwidth usage will draw Verizon’s attention and possibly lead to your account being suspended under suspicion of media piracy.