This is an old revision of the document!
Note: this page was initially based on a blog post.
Here are the most common factors:
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)
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.
Quick Answer: 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.
Some will let you “whitelist” (approve) text ads on sites; these allow the content providers to get paid but consume very little bandwidth.
Most browsers will allow you to block content like Flash or multimedia by default.
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 https://m.alaskaair.com/ mobile website with the https://www.alaskaair.com/ . If the site does client analysis you might get pushed to the regular www site. You may want to hack that behavior by sending a false user agent string.
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.
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:
Many of these settings will be available in webmail also.
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.
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.
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)
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: