Here's How to Monitor Your Data Usage

Category: Networking

The days of unlimited Internet use are drawing to a close for many people. As metered bandwidth billing, data caps, and exorbitant overage fees become more common, it behooves everyone who has such an Internet service plan to continually keep track of how many megabytes they’re using. Here's how to keep tabs on your data usage...

How to Keep Track of Data Usage

Does your Internet service provider (ISP) limit how much data you can use each month? If so, do you know much much they'll charge if you exceed your data allotment? Do they throttle your download speed if you consume too much data? Even if your plan is "unlimited" there's probably something buried in your Terms of Service about "excessive, abnormal, or unreasonable" usage.

It's especially important to keep an eye on your data usage if you have satellite internet, wireless broadband, or a smartphone with a mobile data plan. Outside the USA, data caps are quite common, even on high-speed consumer Internet plans. Some U.S. providers have data caps on consumer DSL and cable internet service.

So it's smart to find out if your mobile and/or internet provider has data limits, speed throttling for "excessive" use, if they provide any tools to show your usage, and if you'll get an alert when you're nearing your limit. A visit to the ISP's website, or a call to customer service should give you those answers.
Data Bandwidth Monitoring

The problem is, service providers’ data monitoring and overage alerts are not always reliable. This month, I’ve talked with several Verizon Wireless Internet customers who are getting alerts that they are at 90 per cent of their monthly data allowances, or even over them, when Verizon’s own website says they are within 50 to 75 per cent of their data allowances. In case of a billing dispute, your own traffic logs can be invaluable.

Before consumer demand reached critical mass, most network monitoring software was designed for IT pros in business environments. Such programs are far too complex and expensive for the average home user. But a few simple, inexpensive or free programs are now available that provide the information and services that consumers need. The questions most users ask include:

How many gigabytes have been used since the billing period began? Who or what is using how much of our data allowance? How fast are my upload and download speeds? Who is on my home network?

Free Network Monitoring Tools

NetWorx from SoftPerfect is a free tool to help you keep tabs on your bandwidth usage, and the speed of your Internet connection. It can monitor all network connections or a specific one, and allows you to configure a variety of alerts for network problems, unusually heavy usage, or suspicious activity. Reports on daily, weekly and monthly bandwith usage are logged on your hard drive, and can be exported in Word, Excel or HTML formats.

BitMeter OS is a free, open-source bandwidth monitor from CodeBox Software that works on Windows, Linux and Mac OSX. It can track how much data is uploaded and downloaded over your internet connection, and displays realtime graphical reports via your web browser, or with a command line interface. The BitMeter web interface is private, and accessible only on your computer. You can also create Alerts to see if your bandwidth usage exceeds a user-defined limit.

Windows has a Resource Monitor that can show you the current network activity for each running app. It doesn't keep track of bandwidth usage over time, but it's interesting to see a snapshot of what's happening in the moment. This can help to identify a specific program if you notice unusually high network activity. Click Start, type resmon, press Enter and click the Network tab to view the monitor. On a Mac, there is a similar tool called Activity Monitor. Type “Activity Monitor” into Spotlight and then click the Network tab.

Your home router may have a feature in the admin interface to monitor (or limit) bandwidth. Doing your monitoring at the router will get ALL the traffic going thru it, including your computer, peripherals, and wifi-connected devices.

I wrote about network speed monitoring tools in my article Here's How to Measure Your Internet Speed. Check that out for the scoop on Internet speed tests, and why you definitely should check your speed every once in a while.

Data Monitoring for Mobile Devices

If you have a smartphone or tablet, you almost certainly have a metered data plan, even if your service provider advertised it as "unlimited data." For years, mobile phone providers have played fast and loose with so-called "unlimited high-speed data" plans. The catch, often, is drastically slowed (throttled) download speeds once the user reaches a certain data cap. In November 2019, the Federal Trade Commission fined AT&T $60 million, alleging that the company did not clearly disclose if and when throttling would happen.

Verizon offers the My Verizon Mobile app, which does basic data monitoring. AT&T customers can use the myAT&T app. If they're not pre-installed on your device, you can find them in the Google Play Store (for Android) or Apple Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod).

Devices running Android can use the Data Usage app found in Settings. It will show data usage for different time periods, alert you when you reach a specified data limit, and shows which apps on your device are consuming the most data. iPhone and iPad users can find a similar (but more basic) utility in the Settings.

Lurking In the Shadows?

Home users with wifi routers should take care to prevent neighbors, strangers and other unwanted users on their wifi networks. An outsider with access to your network could download gobs of data, triggering overages, and other kinds of trouble. See my Five Common WiFi Security Mistakes for help securing your router.

If you're concerned about unauthorized users on your network, Wireless Network Watcher monitors your router, so it is aware of every device attached to your network: PCs, printers, tablets, smartphones, and that sketchy-looking guy parked outside.

Do you monitor your data usage? Does your ISP have data caps or throttling for heavy users? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Here's How to Monitor Your Data Usage"

Posted by:

18 Nov 2019

What about users on your ISP owned router that are expressly allowed to get on there by the ISP, who says they are providing hotspots for all their customers? Does their usage effect your bill?

Posted by:

Bill C
18 Nov 2019

What I get under NetWorx is a 'free' trial, THEN you pay.

Posted by:

18 Nov 2019

It is currently by invitation only .. T-Mobile Introduces $50 a Month Home Internet With No Data Caps.
It claims they can provide high speed internet in rural areas that currently cannot get it.
This may be interesting...

Posted by:

18 Nov 2019

Tried to uninstall NetWorx from Control Panel--got a message that it's currently running. Can't find the supposed desktop icon anywhere. Not being a "tech-ie" (sp?), help please. Do I need to do a System Restore?

Posted by:

18 Nov 2019

If you really have data usage nightmares switch to Linux where you know your operating system is not dicking around with its mother in the background.

Posted by:

18 Nov 2019

Finally used Customize on System Try to find NetWorx; right-clicked and clicked "Exit." Then back to Control Panel where Uninstall worked just fine.

Got the mistaken impression that the "free trial" was a one-time test. Will be more careful about clicking on this site. (I really trust Doctor Bob's site and click where I would hesitate two or three times on other sites.)

Posted by:

Phil Sevetson
18 Nov 2019

NetWorks isn't free. Trial period 30 days; minimum licence after that, $25.00

Posted by:

19 Nov 2019

AT&T internet has a data cap, as does XFinity, and I've only run afoul of them once, but it does put a scare into you. I really don't understand how people who do a lot of high definition downloads to their big screen TVs--live sports, movies, TV shows, whatever--don't have problem with caps all the time. I'd think content providers would be positively frightened by the growth in data caps. Something's going to have to give at some point. Usage caps vs. bigger and bigger files...YIKES!

Posted by:

19 Nov 2019

Networx 5.5.5 was last freeware version.

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