Dealing With the Dreaded Data Caps

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By: Esther Shein |

It’s common for mobile and internet service providers (ISPs) to put data caps on companies, causing users to experience slower connections once they’ve gone over their limit. The process is also known as data throttling. Another practice is for ISPs to charge more after a customer has exceeded their limit for each gigabyte of data used. Some ISPs may even cut off a customer’s service altogether.

Last spring, carrier giants AT&T and Comcast began imposing data caps on more of their broadband customers, arguing that those who use more data should pay more. Yet broadband capacity costs have actually come down faster than the increase in data traffic, Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, an ISP in Santa Rosa, Calif., told CIO. Because the cost of infrastructure such as routers and switching equipment has declined, Sonic does not plan to impose data caps.

Other companies, such as Cablevision Systems Corp., Charter Communications and Google Fiber, also have no data usage limits, according to The Wall Street Journal. Cable companies and their lobbyists are starting to observe that setting data caps is less about relieving congestion and more about making money.

Bandwidth wasn’t always an issue for enterprises because most data transfers either fit within the network footprint or could be parsed out over time. But now that video chats, P2P communications and other real-time, multimedia applications have become more commonplace, the resulting bandwidth usage is putting a strain on both internal and external network infrastructures.

In fact, ensuring a company’s Wi-Fi infrastructure can support bandwidth-hogging applications like video streaming is a key concern for network IT this year, according to IDG Enterprise‘s State of the Network 2016 report.

Pay for What You Need

There are some rules of thumb for companies facing the prospect of data caps. The main one is to make sure you’re paying only for what you need. “Broadband” has carried the implication of much faster speeds than are needed by the typical user in recent history, reported Ars Technica of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), and this can encourage providers to upsell customers to a higher tier of bandwidth than is necessary for their operation. For example, while 25 Mbps has been seen as the magic number for downloading multimedia content, basic video conferencing services like Skype require speeds of just 1.5 Mbps or less.

Industry experts suggest companies also track traffic by port number, IP address or data packet to control and balance employee bandwidth use.

Explore Data Compression

For mobile devices, another technique is to enable Chrome’s data compression feature on both Android and iOS, which will lower monthly bandwidth consumption, suggests MakeUseOf. Virtual private networks (VPNs) like Hotspot Shield have similar data compression abilities for staff who may even be working remotely.

Check with the provider to find out what the cost is of exceeding a data cap. Some DSL and cable broadband providers will cap data connections at a low rate of 150 GB a month. That’s a significant challenge when data traffic increased nearly 138 percent to 9.6 trillion megabytes in 2015, according to the industry trade group CTIA. And of course, shop around.

Let QoS Routers Assess Your Data

Application priority strategies should be implemented to help companies deal with mission-critical and time-sensitive traffic so the whole company doesn’t slow down. Buying more bandwidth tends to be just a Band-Aid fix in many cases, so making optimal use of the existing bandwidth is important.

One strategy for network optimization is to deploy Quality of Service (QoS) routers to let businesses evaluate their capacity, prioritize the applications they use the most and then allocate bandwidth accordingly. QoS routers can help IT identify vulnerable areas and ways to better use existing resources. This can help improve application performance and network availability.

Conducting periodic network analysis and investing in the right equipment can help companies cope with data caps while maximizing the performance and capacity of their networks.

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About The Author

Esther Shein

Freelance Writer

Esther Shein is a freelance writer and editor specializing in technology, business and education. Her work has appeared in several online and print publications, including Inc., Computerworld, NetworkComputing, InformationWeek, BYTE, CIO, CMO.com and The Boston Globe. She has written thought leadership whitepapers, customer case studies and marketing materials in addition to news and feature articles. Prior to going freelance she was the editor-in-chief of Datamation, an online enterprise technology magazine. She was also a senior writer at eWeek (formerly PC Week) and worked at The Associated Press.

Articles by Esther Shein
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