Every time you do something on the internet – whether it's downloading a file, browsing a website, streaming a TV show, or sending an email – you use data. And because some broadband contracts include data caps, it’s often useful to monitor your usage to ensure you stay within the limits.
In this guide, we’ll show you a few easy ways to monitor your home and mobile broadband data usage.
Monitoring data usage: the key points
What is a data usage cap?
A data cap is a limit on how much you can use the internet. With a capped broadband deal, your internet service provider (ISP) gives you a set amount of data that you can use each month.
While your provider won’t suddenly cut you off if you go over, they could bill you for extra data or may slow down your connection. These extra fees could end up costing more than an unlimited deal.
But whether you have unlimited broadband or not, you may still find it useful to monitor broadband usage. This can help you learn whether your broadband deal is delivering the best value, ensure your is Wi-Fi secure and nobody else is using your bandwidth, and help you monitor children’s behaviour online.
How to check home broadband internet usage
Checking internet usage is fairly easy, and there are several ways to do it. But, depending on why you're monitoring usage, some methods are more useful than others.
How to monitor usage if your home broadband isn't unlimited
If your broadband contract has data caps, it’s worth keeping an eye on how much you use. This is definitely true for the first couple of months until you know roughly how much you or your family uses in an average month.
Every ISP that has capped broadband packages should provide the means to measure data use via an online tool. Ask your ISP if you don’t see one within the customer portal of its website.
Other methods for monitoring usage described below (such as data monitoring tools or traffic meters in Wi-Fi routers) aren't recommended for monitoring capped broadband packages, as they are not reliable enough.
Some providers may also send warnings as you approach a data cap, though this is only useful to help you avoid extra fees or restrictions at the last minute, so you should not rely on it.
How to monitor usage if you have unlimited broadband
If you have unlimited broadband, your ISP likely won’t provide a bandwidth monitoring tool, as you don’t really need one. But there are other ways to check, such as router logs or third-party tools.
Wi-Fi router traffic meter
Your Wi-Fi router may offer a feature to track data. It may be called ‘traffic use’, ‘traffic meter’, ‘internet usage’ or similar. This is the best option if you can't monitor usage via your ISP because it will measure data use for your entire home network.
Data monitoring apps for desktop and laptop computers
There are third-party programs you install onto a computer to monitor bandwidth. These are usually free and easy to use, but will only monitor traffic on the device it is installed on, not your entire network. But if you only have one computer, these will work fine. Some recommended tools include BitMeter OS, NetWorx, or GlassWire (Networx can also monitor an entire network but requires some configuration and technical knowledge). These and other similar tools are available for all major operating systems, including Windows 10, Windows 11, and Apple macOS.
One thing to note about third-party data meter tools: if you use a program to monitor bandwidth usage as part of a dispute with your provider, their findings will often not be accepted by your ISP.
How to check mobile broadband data usage
Most mobile contracts have data caps, and it’s well worth monitoring your usage (at least during the early stages of a new contract) to see how much you use. This is true for mobile phones and mobile broadband dongles. Both include data caps, and networks will likely charge heavily for exceeding those caps or cut off internet access until you purchase more data.
Mobile broadband providers should provide the means to monitor data traffic, usually within the customer portal of the provider’s website, or via the mobile broadband dongle software utility. This is usually the best way to monitor mobile broadband data usage, but not the only way.
You can use third-party apps to monitor mobile broadband usage the same as you can monitor fixed-line broadband. It’s easier on a mobile, as you can install an app that sees all traffic that goes through your phone. Apps like DataMan Next for iPhone or My Data Manager can help you monitor what you use.
Android and iOS also both have bandwidth monitors built into the OS. Helpfully, you can set a data limit, and they will warn you when you get close. They're not as precise as your mobile network’s own tools, but a useful backup if you think you might run over your data limit.
How to enable data monitoring on an Android smartphone
To monitor data usage on Android, go to Settings > Network & Internet > SIMs. Here you can view current usage and adjust the options for data warnings. Note that these options and the name of the network settings menu may be different depending on the manufacturer of your device.
How to enable data monitoring on an Apple iPhone
To manage data usage on an iPhone go to Settings > Cellular or Mobile Data > Usage OR Settings > Mobile Data.
But the same limitations apply to these software solutions as they do for fixed-line broadband. They can help you manage your own data use, but won’t be as accurate as your mobile network's own data use meter. And neither is the data likely to be accepted as proof in any dispute.
Whether you’re managing data caps or just want to monitor what’s going on within your network, bandwidth monitoring offers insights into what’s going on. The more we depend on the internet, the more useful it is to know exactly what’s going on.
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