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What's Eating My Data?

Coastal Computer - Thursday, February 18, 2016

It’s a question we often ask when we are traveling on a data plan or using the WiFi at a hotel. It’s also a big question for business owners who have WiFi networks at their business, especially hospitality and restaurant businesses that provide WiFi access to guests.

In this article, we’ll be looking at the hungriest apps, devices and technology that are eating your data. Knowing which of these is having a feast on your bandwidth can help you stay within your data plan limits and also provide sufficient and equal bandwidth to your employees or guests at your business.

Streaming Video Apps, Devices, and Websites

To get started, we’ll look at the technology that eats most of your bandwidth and data if left unchecked: streaming. A cute little AppleTV may not look like much, but it can eat as much data as a laptop, and quite a lot more when that laptop is only being used for basic tasks. Let’s look at some of the devices, apps, and websites to watch out for:

  • YouTube — while you YouTube has a lot of settings to help reduce bandwidth usage, even when you are on the lowest setting, you can quickly use up data watching videos on YouTube. This is true for your phone or tablet and when you’re using a laptop on a guest WiFi connection while you’re traveling.
  • Netflix and Hulu — both of these streaming sites use a lot of data. While they offer low resolution streams, the bandwidth and data usage tends to be more than other video sites because the lowest quality still needs to be acceptable for “tv-quality” viewing.
  • AppleTV, Roku and Chromecast — these streaming devices, which come in a variety of sizes and shapes, have one thing in common: they like to eat your data. They’re designed to stream video and are often used for YouTube or NetFlix. While they may use less power than a laptop, they use just as much, if not more data.

Facebook, Instagram and Social Media

It’s surprising how much data social media apps are using in the background to update your feed with the latest news from friends, family, and brands you follow online. Make sure you quit these apps completely to prevent them from using your data.

Background Data Usage

Looking at the hotel WiFi networks we maintain for our clients, we see a lot of background data usage from iPhones and iPads. To limit or prevent background data usage while you travel, follow these steps — which also apply to Android devices too:

  • Update your devices before you leave to travel. This is especially true when there is a major update available for iOS or Android for your device. One important note here, backup your iPhone and perform any major updates at least a week before traveling so you are not stuck trying to update your phone and then rushing out the door to catch a flight.
  • Download any new apps you want to try or use before traveling. 100mb might not seem like a lot on your home WiFi connection, but that can eat into your roaming data quick. That’s 10% of a 1gb limit used in an instant, and it may be an app that you don’t use after all, so it’s better to grab them at home and, as time allows test them at home to see how much data they use before you decide to try them on the road.
  • While not directly related to bandwidth or data, a helpful note from the Coastal Team: you should backup any important devices before traveling.
  • Monitor your data usage while you travel by following these steps in our article here.
  • Turn off cellular data usage completely or by app following the steps in our article here.
  • Turn OFF WiFi Assist for iPhones or iPads with iOS 9 and a cellular data connection.
  • While you are traveling, quit any apps that are running in the background.
  • Don’t use hungry bandwidth apps unless you know you have enough data to support it. Do you have an unlimited plan? Go for it. Otherwise, carefully monitor the apps and sites you visit and avoid the hungriest one’s completely!
  • Turn OFF background notifications for apps. These little notifications are slowly nibbling at your data!

Data Usage at Your Business

For business owners who are having trouble with WiFi network bandwidth and use, it’s wise to block many of the apps, services and devices we mentioned as these are rarely essential to business functions. Sites and apps such as YouTube and Facebook are also a drain on productivity in the workplace. While you can limit these on each computer, it’s best to limit them network wide to prevent any access from phones or tablets your staff may use on your WiFi network.

Hotel and venue owners have a greater challenge to decide whether to allow access for certain devices and websites, while limiting data use per person, or to block these sites and provide more bandwidth per person. It may depend on how social your clients are. We have tools to check what apps are using the most bandwidth on your network, so you can make an informed decision about how to best allocate bandwidth to your guests.

By knowing which apps, devices and technologies are using your data, you can make better use of your data plan on the road. You’ll always be sure to have enough data for the more essential functions such as email or checking your plane departure time. For businesses you can provide better quality WiFi to your staff and guests by limiting or blocking these services in a thoughtful way that does not limit productivity or block your guests from having fun.