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Can You Use Skype Over a Bandwidth Limited Broadband Connection?

By Edited Feb 13, 2014 0 0

Skype Connections and Broadband

Your bandwidth might be being used up unexpectedly by an unlikely culprit. Skype could well be eating up way more of your monthly data limit than you'd believe. Don't believe us? Read on to find out how and how you might be able to avoid this...

Take a Simple Post Office Home Phone and Broadband Plan...

For the purposes of illustration, we're going to take a simple Post Office home phone and broadband plan. This works well as an example, since it's a solid, cheap plan that many people are likely to be taking advantage of. On your Post Office home phone and broadband plan right now you're getting inclusive calls and a 5 GB data limit per month for just £8.15 a month. Not a bad deal, right? 5 GB of data seems like a fair data cap for the average user, it's not a lot of data, but it should be enough for a single user who's not big into online gaming or video streaming, and just wants to do a little casual browsing and email. No, before we continue with this example, take a second to remember what happens to your cheap internet plan once you go over your data limit. In some cases internet speeds get slowed down significantly. Some providers will automatically upgrade you to more expensive plans with higher data limits. And yet other providers will charge you expensive fees for using extra data. So you choose you data limit carefully, because you don't want to get any unexpected surprises come bill time, and you definitely don't want your internet connection slowed down. But that 5 GB limit seems good enough, so you crack on with your internet time. And then what happens?

You and Skype...

Most people these days use Skype on their home computers. You get free calling and messaging, and it's a convenient way to stay in touch with friends and family. But something that many people don't know is that Skype is eating away at your data all the time. A regular Skype call uses around 3 Mb of data every five minutes. That's pretty high, but not incredibly bad. After all, at that rate, your 5 GB data limit would give you around six days of around the clock Skype video calling. You're unlikely to use six days of calling in a month, but for a heavy Skype user that usage is still going to cut a big chunk out of your monthly data limit. But there's more... Skype also uses your data whilst you're not calling. Partially this is for your own use, since Skype will scan the network to see when your friends come online and to update your notifications appropriately. But depending on what kind of network you're on (and if you're not on a heavily guarded network this will probably include you), Skype will also use some of your bandwidth for other people's calls. Skype uses a sort of peer to peer system to send data over available connection and may, therefore, use some of your data to route other people's calls. All of this adds up, of course. And you may find that just by constantly running Skype in the background of your computer, you'll be using up far more of your monthly data limit than you think. Of course, Skype also has that tricky little log out system where, unlike most programmes, when you hit the red cross at the top the programme doesn't actually stop running, it simply minimises and runs in the background. This means that many people might even be unaware that Skype is running at all...

What to Do?

There are several options that you can think about, some better than others. A relatively obvious solution is to stop running Skype at all. However, it must be said that whatever problems Skype has, there really is no other decent alternative that gives you all the same features for free. Skype is the best programme at what it does, meaning that it's the programme that everyone has, which in turn means that should you switch to something else you'd need to get all your contacts to switch too, which isn't going to be easy. Having said that, many people these days have a Gmail account, which will include Gtalk. Gtalk isn't quite as good as Skype, but it could be an alternative, and it uses around half the bandwidth of a Skype account when running. You should monitor your usage whenever you're physically using Skype. This can be done quite easily. During a call you can simply hover your mouse over the call window and you'll get a pop up that shows you bandwidth usage. For all other times, go to the tools menu, choose options, then advanced, then connection, and tick “display technical call info during calls” and “display Skype bandwidth usage.” This should at least help you to keep track of how much data is being used. Do make sure that you fully log out of Skype and close it down if you're not using it, preventing the programme from using data in the background. You'll need to log out and close the programme through the menu option, rather than just clicking on that deceptive red cross in the top right corner. If you're a big Skype user, you might even want to consider switching to an unlimited broadband plan, meaning that you'll have no monthly data limit to worry about at all. Alternatively you could download and use a programme like WaterRoof that will allow you to set bandwidth limits for programmes running on your computer, though this is a bit of a technical process and not for beginners. You can run Skype on a bandwidth limited plan, but you do need to be careful, since it will quickly eat up your data if you're not. And always make sure that the security settings on your computer are as strong as possible to help prevent Skype using your bandwidth to route other people's calls...

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