Sub par connection? Make it count

One of the most difficult things about our recent move to Nigeria is that we no longer have access to the kind of super fast connection that’s available in the UK.

All we have access to now is an “up to 2Mb” service that’s supplied via a 4G LTE router.  What’s even worse is that we pay for the amount of data that we use, so our bills can get pretty high if we’re not careful.

Thankfully, it’s not hard to make the most of a slow Internet connection, and it’s also pretty easy to make sure that you’re not eating in to your download allowance needlessly.

Step 1 – schedule your updates

If your connection is slow, the last thing you want is for your devices to be downloading stuff in the background while you’re trying to web browse.

Thankfully, most mobile devices allow you to turn off automatic updates, if you turn it back on before going to bed, you should find that all your apps will download over night instead of while you’re trying to use your connection.

When it comes to OS’s like Windows and Mac OS X, both will allow you to schedule your updates, so you can tell it to only update overnight.  If you’re worried about leaving your PC on overnight all the time to download updates, don’t.  Both vendors only release updates on a weekly basis, so you’ll just need to leave your PC on one night a week.

Step 2 – Check which apps are using your connection

There are plenty of apps out there that will happily run in the background and use your Internet connection to either sync with a service or download information.

With tablets and smartphones it’s easy to mitigate against this; just close the apps down when you’re not using them.  Things like Facebook, Skype and some games will periodically check with their servers either for software updates or to refresh contact lists etc.

With PC’s and Macs, it’s just a case of checking which apps are running in the background.  Some anti-virus programs will automatically download new definitions at will, but most will allow you to schedule downloads for set times.

Step 3 – Don’t download things recklessly.

If you already receive your emails to one device, like your PC or your smartphone, there’s no need to set all of your other devices to automatically receive the same emails, especially if you receive a lot of large messages.

Instead, try setting only one device to receive all your email automatically.  You can still receive it to all your other devices by downloading them manually, but at least you can delete all the spam before it’s automatically downloaded to all your other devices.

Step 4 – Stream sensibly

If you’re lucky enough to be able to stream audio or video from online sources like Netflix, be sure to check if you can lower the quality of the media that’s sent to you.  This might seem counter productive, but in my mind it’s better to be able to view a grainy video straight away, than be constantly annoyed by “buffering” messages every few seconds.

This will also help you to keep the amount of data you’re using to a minimum.  Lower quality videos will use a lot less data than higher quality ones, so if you’re unlucky enough to have a download limit, you’re not going to destroy it as quickly as you could have.

Step 5 – Don’t just put up with it

If you’re consistently getting speeds that are significantly lower than advertised, then it’s worth mentioning it to your broadband provider.  Currently providers only have to give you an “up to” estimate of the fastest you could expect to receive in your area, but Ofcom are toying with the idea of forcing suppliers to tell you exactly what speed to expect at the point of sale.

If suppliers fail to meet the estimates they’ve set you, then your should call them and ask them to open a fault ticket to discover the problem.  Quite often there’ll be nothing that they can do, but in some cases a simple faulty outlet or a bad connection in the exchange can be responsible for appalling speeds, and fixing these will result in instant higher speeds.

If that doesn’t work, consider switching to a different provider, but be wary that most providers in the UK use BT’s cabling, and bad cabling (or long distances to the exchange) are the primary cause of poor Internet speeds.  In these cases, switching to a different provider isn’t likely to bring much of an improvement, but there are alternatives to BT’s landline system out there, such as fibre optic broadband from Virgin, or 4G mobile solutions from EE and others.

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