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Note: this page was initially based on a blog post.

Bandwidth conservation

Similar to dealing with water or electrical power, it is typically easier to reduce your consumption rather than trying to add more supply.

Here are the most common factors:

  • Cost - on metered or capped plans going over can be expensive
  • Availability - sometimes the connection is sketchy or has too many users for the size of the pipe.

Conserving Mobile Data

What takes up a lot of bandwidth?

tl-dr: Video. Anything to do with video consumes inordinate amounts of bandwidth; it's the data equivalent of trying to run an electric heater. Everything else is an afterthought in terms of data usage compared to video. This includes having Zoom or other videoconferencing calls, streaming/watching video on Youtube/Hulu/Netflix/Amazon/Disney/Apple/TikTok, uploading video, anything. It's all going to take more data usage in just a few minutes than the entire rest of your internet usage might in an day.

If you can reduce or eliminate any kind of video data usage, you've made the problem of data vastly smaller already.

Professional-quality photo uploading can also take a lot of bandwidth, but it's still nowhere in the same range as video.

What DOESN'T take up a lot of bandwidth

tl-dr: Anything that isn't video. Even audio streaming is barely a drop in the bucket; a 2-hour-long podcast is 20-30mb while a 2-hour-long movie is 500-2,000mb. For those operating on limited quantities or quality of data, it's best to find some music, podcasts, or audiobooks to fill your entertainment time rather than trying to figure out how to binge Netflix in your van.

General tips for reducing data usage

(Aside from avoiding video)

  • Use cell phones or mobile devices when possible, instead of laptops.
    • Mobile web browsers and apps are generally formatted and designed to be more efficient about data usage, and most web sites will have mobile-optimized versions that are more lightweight.
    • You can sometimes fake this on some desktop web browsers by using extensions to trick them into fetching the mobile versions of web pages, or by doing it manually with specific web addresses (for example,
    • You may want to hack that behavior by sending a false user agent string.
  • Turn off data usage when not needed
    • Modern devices are very “chatty”, in that they're consistently taking up bandwidth to perpetually be checking for new e-mails, posts, messages, cat pictures and app updates.
    • When going to bed or when you know you're not using the device for a while, turn off just the data connection. This will stop this continuous trickle of background data usage, and can make a big difference for those on pay-per-gig or capped monthly plans.
    • This means that you may not get notified immediately when someone posts a new cat picture, however SMS and phone calls will still come through (as those operate on a push notification from the cellular network, rather than a pull from the phone)
    • Many cell phones will have options for “Low Data Mode”, which will attempt to limit or stop this background behavior as well.
  • Offline Navigation
    • There are offline navigation apps like CoPilot and OsmAnd (free) that allow you to download maps on wifi and use them without data while traveling. Note that realtime traffic data doesn't work in these scenarios since the apps are offline.
    • Google maps will let you download certain map tiles for offline use. This would work best if you are in the same areas but would be less useful while traveling.
  • Use add blockers
    • The uBlock Origin browser plugin for Firefox and Chrome/Chromium is simple to use and surprisingly effective. It is a good first step to reducing web bandwidth use.
  • Video Frugality
    • If you are going to stream, see if you can turn the quality down as low as you can tolerate. Use your phone instead of laptop or tablet, as they will typically default to a lower resolution stream.
    • See the section below for frugality with Youtube specifically.

stripping out extraneous junk

Ads and scripts can be blocked with adblockers or tools like NoScript. These types of plugins will usually let you disable the blocking for particular sites that don't work right when blocked.

Some will let you “whitelist” (approve) text ads on sites; these allow the content providers to get paid but consume very little bandwidth.

element blocking

Most browsers will allow you to block content like Flash or multimedia by default.

use mobile sites

You can try to force the use of a mobile site even if you are on a computer. Mobile sites tend to be cleaner, simpler, and generally less gunked up with bandwith hogging multimedia.

The traditional way mobile sites were/are denoted was with the prefix “m”. Compare the mobile website with the . If the site does client analysis you might get pushed to the regular www site.

compression proxies

A compression proxy runs between you and the internet and optimizes / compresses web content to save bandwidth. It may downgrade image quality for substantial savings. It is an internet version of a mail forwarding service that throws out the junk and extra packing before sending your mail (web page) to you.

Note: HTTPS (encrypted) traffic cannot be optimized by third parties because it is encrypted and the proxy can't see what it is.

Opera made the first mainstream browser to offer a compression proxy on their mobile ~~and desktop~~ browsers. ~~Now the Chrome mobile browser has a proxy and there is a Data Savings plugin for Chrome/Chromium.~~

If you are technically minded and have a server somewhere you can run your own compression proxy using freeware like ziproxy. Frater Secessus runs one of these and will make a login for you if you want to play with it.

The Bandwidth Hero project compresses images; significant assembly required.

A german ISP runs SkyZip, a compression proxy.

email frugality

Before the advent of “webmail” (email read from a webpage) people used email “clients” (programs) to connect to email servers and pull down their email. They would write responses or compose new mail offline. Next time they had a connection the mail would be sent/received. This original form of email access will serve you well in periods of intermittent access and will save bandwidth even when you have a good feed.

Common email clients include Outlook for Windows and Thunderbird, a free/opensource Outlook workalike, for all platforms (linux, windows, mac)

Find the POP (sometimes called POP3) settings for your webmail provider. Here are the settings for gmail and the settings for yahoo. Others will be similar. Google something like “[your provider] pop3 settings”. There is another method called IMAP but it consumes more bandwidth and is not a good fit for most people. If you needed IMAP you would know it.

There are several bandwidth-saving features built into most clients:

  • download “headers” only - This means that when you pick up mail it only retrieves the To/From/Subject/etc lines at first, giving you an opportunity to delete any spam or useless mail without ever having to download it. If you do want to read the email it will be retrieved automatically when you click to read it.
  • download last X days - if you are downloading from an established mailbox and choose something like “download all mail” you could get all email since the account was created; you probably don't want this. You can pick “last 7 days” or “last 30 days” depending on your needs.
  • deselect “download images automatically” - you can click on images to download them but this will keep you from wasting bandwidth on junk images.
  • deselect “download attachments automatically” - as with images, you can click on the ones you really want without pulling down everything. Attachments are huge compared to the text of the actual email.
  • if your feed is really minimal you can save a few KB by writing and replying to email in plain text rather than HTML.
  • You can also save a few KB by trimming quoted material from prior emails.

Many of these settings will be available in webmail also.

podcast frugality

Podcasts consume much less bandwidth than video but savings still can be had.

If given a choice, OGG/Vorbis or AAC will be smaller than identical-sounding MP3. Also look to see if your podcast creator offers a low bandwidth feed. Example: Security Now podcast.

Choose the podcast episodes you want to hear instead of automatically downloading all the episodes.

video frugality

Streaming is evil when bandwidth is limited. Some networking gear is socket-limited; there is a certain number of “slots” available for users. When web browsing, reading email, etc, a user will take one of the slots for active data then release it. Streaming holds the socket open, which can block other users from using the resource.

If you can, download the media during off-hours; this is the kindest to the provider and to other users.

Some streaming services allow you to download for offline consumption. In that case you can d/l shows when near wifi and watch them later.

YouTube frugality

Force YouTube video quality down as far as you can stand. You can also configure a downloading tool like youtube-dl to pull down videos for watching later.

You can see what resolutions are available with the ''-F'' flag, and request the lowest-resolution complete video with something like:

youtube-dl -f '160/278/133/18/22' [url]

For “talking head” type videos you can download the audio only, using something like:

  • youtube-dl -f bestaudio [URL] if you intended to process the file further; or
  • youtube-dl -f worstaudio [URL] if you are going to use it directly.

Pulling down audio only when possible can save 90% or more bandwidth.

If you need both audio and video, those pieces can be pulled down separately and combined for absolute smallest filesize:

  • youtube-dl -f worstaudio+worstvideo [URL]


“On recent versions of Android (last couple of years) you can pull up the Settings | Apps menu and select the unwanted app. If it was preinstalled you can probably Disable it, which will lock it down. If it was installed afterwards you can Uninstall it from there.

This will stop the creeping background data use and battery consumption.

If you only want to control sneaky data use you can go to Settings | Mobile Data (or Data Usage, depending) and select any apps you see listed as being hogs. Tap on the hog and Restrict app background data. It will still be able to use mobile data when you are using the app but not when you are not interacting with it.

Note: Apps that you intend to run in the background (email, texting, nav, google services, streaming, whatever) should keep access to background data.”1)

conserving wifi data

Wifi is a shared resource, one that is often free as a service to customers. It does not, then, represent an opportunity to waste bandwidth.

The tips for Mobile Data also apply on wifi, but there are couple of chokepoints in a shared resources like wifi:

  • upload congestion - for technical reasons downloading from the internet also requires some upstream traffic. This usually isn't a problem unless someone is hammering the upload with video, audio, or other large uploads. Large uploading loads like that can max out the upstream which, for those technical reasons, can cause major problems for normal users even if there is plenty of downstream bandwidth available. So be polite and do your large uploads during periods of low wifi use.
  • interference - wifi is radio frequency in the microwave range. If you are running a repeater/extender and your hardward supports it, use a different channel than the main wifi. This will reduce interference and make everyone's experience better. Also adjust your repeater to run on the minimum output wattage required to meet your needs. No reason to pollute the nearby area with signals they can't use.
communication/bandwidth_conservation.txt · Last modified: 2021/12/17 22:53 by princess_fluffypants