I have a 2.5 gb/per month internet browsing plan. What does it mean? Does it
include download & upload?
As ISPs face ever-increasing internet use, they’re often looking for ways to
either throttle how much their subscribers use or charge more to those who use
One of the ways that they do that is by imposing caps on your data transfer.
A certain amount of transfer is included as part of your plan and if you go
over that, you pay more or run into other restrictions.
But just what does “data transfer” mean?
The internet is all about data
When you use the internet, everything that you do can be broken down in to data being transferred across the connection provided by your ISP.
The terms “up” and “down” are used to characterize what direction the data is being transferred. Up, as in “upload”, means data transferred from your computer or your local network across your internet connection to a resource out on the internet. Down, as in “download”, means the reverse: data transferred from some resource out on the internet, across your internet connection, and to your machine.
Let’s say that you visit a web page, such as this one. Your web browser sends a request for the page by transmitting data up your internet connection to the Ask Leo! web server. That server responds by sending the data that makes up this page back down your internet connection to your computer where the browser interprets it and displays the page.
Everything that you do on the internet somehow gets down to data being sent up or down your internet connection.
It’s pretty easy to realize that when you download a file from the internet … well, that’s a download (although there was a small amount of information sent up the connection to request that the file to be downloaded).
And web pages, as I described above, are all about sending requests up and getting web pages back.
Desktop email programs request and download email, and of course, upload when they send.
Instant messaging programs transmit data up and down the internet connection.
Online backup programs upload your data to be backed up and synchronization programs like DropBox, Evernote, and the like may well download that data to other computers which you have set up for the purpose.
And of course, online video or audio, no matter how it’s accessed, is a download of fairly large amounts of data.
And that’s probably the hardest part of this entire equation.
Knowing how much you use
It turns out that it’s actually very difficult to measure how much data the computers on your home network are actually transferring up and down the internet connection.
By far, the best measurement is the one kept by your ISP; unfortunately, not all of them make it easily available. (Kudos to Verizon Wireless for making this information easily accessible.)
When the information isn’t available, the more practical approach is to understand what’s “big” and what’s not.
Most emails are small, unless they have large attachments. Fortunately, email programs typically show you the message’s size.
Similarly, downloads are often listed with their size so you can choose whether or not to download.
Video tends to be the most difficult because there are different encoding methods that use different amounts of data to represent different levels of quality.
A little math
As a rule of thumb, a “GB” or gigabyte is a billion bytes, or 1,000 MB (megabytes), 1,000,000 KB (kilobytes) or 1,000,000,000 bytes.
So that 2.5GB cap means that you can transfer 2.5 billion bytes of information before hitting that cap.
How much is that? 1/2 of a normal 4.7GB DVD full of data, or about three and a half full CDs.
Even then, that’s difficult to translate into information being uploaded and downloaded, but at least it gives you an order of magnitude to go by.
And finally, I can’t say whether the transfer cap includes both uploaded and downloaded data. That’s actually up to the ISP to determine. You should ask.
In most cases, it’s download, because we download much more data than we upload. But whether they combine the two numbers, or use only the download, or in the case of large uploaders, use the larger of the two – that’s unclear.