web bandwidth and data conservation

There are two entangled ideas here:

  • the amount of data you use over time (like a month).  If it were electricity this might be kilowatt-hours.

  • the amount of data you use at any given time (available bandwidth of your connection).  If this were electricity it might be Amperes.

We will address the data side of these but it will also pay off when you find your bandwidth limited by crowding or limited reception.

Why you need to know about how webpages work

You don’t have to be a geek but understanding the basics will help you control your data use.  The most important thing to understand is the webpage doesn’t exist anywhere.  It’s not like a piece of paper or a .pdf file.  Webpages are sent on-the-fly to your browser which then assembles and presents them to you.

It’s like watching a marching band on the football field:  the members assemble from around the field (or sidelines, or grandstands) and make cool patterns.  But the pattern doesn’t exist on its own somewhere;  it is created on-the-fly for the audience (you).

Let’s add in one more piece of info about how webpages work:  these pieces assembled on -the-fly don’t have to come from the site you are on (CNN, CheapRVliving, etc).  They can be pulled in Just In Time from anywhere on the net.

Expensive and cheap pieces

These individual pieces all have a certain size (filesize, amount of data) just like they do on your hard drive.  Some are ginormous and some are tiny.  In terms of moving files around the net to get to you large files are expensive to move and tiny files are cheap/inexpensive to move.  If you are being billed by the GB this expense is an economic reality and will affect your wallet.  If your bandwidth is  restricted (speeds are slow for whatever reason) this expense is a quality-of-experience issue.  It may even dictate what you can do or not do across a crummy connection.

Here is how various components stack up:

  • very expensive: video, audio, software

  • expensive: graphics, animation

  • cheap: text, javascript

You can have expensive stuff.  The trick is to download only that expensive stuff that adds value to your experience.  Let’s start by eliminating the expensive stuff you don’t need.  You won’t even miss it…

Low-hanging fruit

First, control autoplaying multimedia:  audio and video.  The easiest way to do this is with a browser browser setting if it has it.  If not, search the extensions for your browser for something like “autoplay”.  That should be a good place to start. Also search for “flash”.

Second, reduce unnecessary bells and whistles.  One easy way to do this is to access the mobile site instead of the regular site;  this works even on a normal computer.  Compare the simplicity and data frugality of m.cnn.com vs www.cnn.com.  The “m” is for “mobile” and is the most common name for mobile sites.  A firefox extension called imgLikeOpera doesn’t download any images until you click on them.

Ads are generally data-expensive and seriously annoying.  An extension like uBlock Origin for firefox or chrome blocks ads and other pointless crud.  You can tune it for each site if you need some crud.  You can also allow ads on given sites if you want to help their income stream.

Third, use a proxy that reduces the expense of various components.  The way these work is you ask for a webpage and the proxy gets the page, reduces the size of various pieces and then sends them to your browser.   Proxies like this were first built into Opera and is called Turbo mode.  Recently Chrome for mobile has added a reduced bandwidth mode.  Graphics look a bit rougher but in my experience using opera Turbo reduces data usage about 90% (!) and Chrome’s less brutal Reduce Bandwidth setting saves about 50%.  Chrome theoretically has an extension to add the Google proxy  but I didn’t test it.  Amazon’s Kindle Silk browser has a data reduction setting I also have not tested.

Note for geeks only:  if you have a static IP server somewhere you can make your own compression proxy using ziproxy.  I run one (and other stuff) on a $15/year virtual server.

Fourth, ensure the browser downloads only pages you need. Two settings are important here.

  1. make sure your browser is using its cache.  The cache keeps copies of previously-used web parts and uses them later when appropriate.  When the saved cache item is used this is almost 100% data savings.  Detail:  it’s not complete savings because a tiny request is sent to the webserver to see if the file has changed since the cache got its copy.

  2. turn off pre-fetch functions.  These are sometimes called accelerators. They work by downloading related webpages just in case you might want to see them (!).  Booooooo!

Another note for geeks:  you can set up a squid proxy on your RV network so the cache will effectively be shared by all devices.

Now you know

Now you know how to reduce your web data consumption.  You don’t have to do anything about it now but it’s nice to have it in your pocket.