Editor’s note: This is post #3 about the new Shaw bandwidth caps. For post #1, click here. For post #2, click here. As much as we may not like this prospect, Shaw’s bandwidth caps are currently a reality. And the extremely low limits combined with increasing internet usage means that many people will have to actively monitor how much data they use every month. This is especially true in cases of households with multiple users and multiple devices. Unfortunately the answer to how to monitor how much data you transfer is not a simple or easy one.
Shouldn’t Shaw Be Telling Me How Much I Use?
In a perfect world, yes. And they will, but only after you have gone over your limit once. Once you do, Shaw will enable a bandwidth monitor for your account that can be accessed via your account page at secure.shaw.ca. But until you go over your limit once Shaw simply does not provide a way for you to check. Putting aside whether or not Shaw should be keeping that information from it’s users; one way to be able to monitor your bandwidth is to simply not worry about it until you go over, and then use Shaw’s tool to monitor every month. Remember that you do get two “strikes” where you can go over your limit, and on the third time you begin getting charged. So if you go over once, you will not be charged. However, doing that means that you only have one more chance before you will start facing overage charges.
I Don’t Like That Idea. How Can I Monitor Myself
Well, that’s where it starts to get complicated. If you have one computer, and that is the only device that uses your Shaw internet connection, the answer is quite simple. Several free tools exist for windows that will monitor your bandwidth usage over time. They are applications that install and run in the background. The tool I recommend for Windows users is, helpfully enough, called Bandwidth Monitor [website]. It will monitor data usage on your PC, and provides daily, weekly, and monthly stats that all you to track history and your usage over time. On the Apple side, Surplus Meter promises many of the same features, though I personally have not used it.
But Those Are Just For One Computer.
That’s correct. And that’s where it gets complicated. There are no “apps” to monitor data usage over time on things like iPods, iPads, game consoles, and other set top boxes that use services like Netflix. As I type this, I personally have several different devices that are connected that, when powered on, can access the internet. Monitoring all seven devices would be impossible if I tried to do it from each device. Even if there was a way to track every device I have, it would be difficult to continually monitor each device and get some kind of running total as you use them.
Ok, That’s Not Realistic At All. Is There Anything Else I Can Do?
Yes. There is one thing you can do, which is monitoring the data usage at your router. This unfortunately is the most complicated method, but also the best one for measuring a house with multiple devices connecting wirelessly or wired. Because each router manufacturer uses different software, the best thing you can do is look at the user manual, either the printed one that came with the device or online. You will usually access the router through your web browser by going to it’s address, which again will be in the users manual.
Once logged into the router, there may be options for monitoring your data usage. Please note that not every router supports this, and it may not keep logs for very long. My Router, which runs custom software(more on that later), allows me to monitor in a menu simply called “Bandwidth” Others may be under tools, status, or Administration. Again, if your router supports it the best way to find out is by reading the user manual.
You’re Not Being Very Helpful With That.
Unfortunately there are simply too many different makes and models of routers for me to really look into detail for each one. Some families of routers will be similar, but many people, myself included, have older routers. I wish I could spend the time to look up the info for many devices, but if I did that this document would be 200 pages long. I also must stress enough that many home routers do not support this function out of the box anyway. It’s not something most users ever need.
What’s This About Custom firmware?
This begins with a disclaimer: Custom software on your router has the potential of causing it to be unusable, and voids your warranty. You use this type of software at your own risk.
Some routers support loading of custom, or third party operating systems. These are more for power users, and can add or unlock functionality in the router. These are not developed by the companies that make the routers, and are provided as-is. You install them onto your router, replacing the firmware that came on the device. The two most popular custom firmware options are DD-WRT, and Tomato. Each website has guides on installation. They will tell you whether your router is compatible, provide a guide on how to install, and instructions how to use the firmware after it is installed. I personally have been using the Tomato firmware for years with great success, and it has allowed me to monitor my bandwidth with one caveat that is common with most routers. It will store the data as long as the router is turned on, but if the device is reset or power is lost it does not keep that data. This is because routers usually have very small amounts of memory in them, only enough to run the firmware on the device. There is simply no place to store that kind of data long term.
I use Tomato to monitor my usage now, and look at it about once a week. The advantage of monitoring at the router is that it captures all network traffic coming through the shaw cable modem, no matter what device generates it. The downside is that not many routers can actually do this. And I cannot stress this enough: Do not attempt to load custom firmware if you are uncomfortable with the fact that it may break your router.
This Seems Really Hard.
That’s because it actually is pretty hard. There quite frankly are very few good solutions for monitoring data transfer in a household. Software exists to do it on a PC by PC basis but in a home with multiple devices it is very hard.
In all honestly, the Shaw tool on your customer care page is likely the best way to monitor your data transfer at home. It’s just very unfortunate that Shaw will not turn that feature on until you have exceeded your limit once, thus eliminating one of two “strikes” before you even know how much data you use. What Shaw should be doing is enabling this tool for all accounts now, so users have a chance to see what kind of usage they have.
My other hope is that eventually router manufacturers will build data monitors into all future routers, and make them very easy to find/use. As more and more ISPs institute data caps, whether the limit is 60GB or 250GB, users need an easy way to monitor their usage. Until then, we just have to do the best we can with the tools at hand, and hope that there are no surprises on the bill when it comes.