Experiencing the increase in web bandwidth usage for myself

August 29, 2023

Recently, for reasons outside the scope of this entry (cf), I found myself using tethered cellular Internet at home instead of my regular DSL Internet. In many parts of the West this wouldn't be much of a problem, but in Canada our cellular Internet plans are all what you would politely call 'cramped' in terms of monthly transfer limits, and needing to use cellular Internet on a regular basis for what turned out to be more than two weeks really made me watch my usage nervously.

(I've used cellular Internet before during brief interruptions in my DSL connection and during a vacation, but both are different than this time. And in the latter situation I looked into ways to turn Fedora's bandwidth usage down.)

There were certain things I could cut right out, like fetching Fedora package updates, VCS repository updates, and so on. After those, a lot of my remaining use of the Internet was visiting and using websites, including the Fediverse (I don't have a Linux client I like yet, so I use the Mastodon web interface). This, plus monitoring how much I'd transferred, gave me a front row seat on how much bandwidth the modern web casually uses. Often the answer was 'a lot', at least by my standards.

One reason for this is modern web design's love for what is apparently called 'hero images', which are images thrown into text articles to add nominal interest. Hero images often appear at the top and can also be added part way through when the article's creator decides they want to give you something else to look at; they add nothing to the article except more data transferred (and a visual break), and often are relatively large. Modern JavaScript doesn't help, but hero images are a significant reason that even ordinary looking web pages can be 10 Mbytes or more a pop once the dust settles (on a HiDPI display, which may not help either).

I was going to say something about how much bandwidth our Grafana dashboards use, but although I perceived them as heavyweight and avoided looking at them over cellular, now that I've looked our main dashboard is only about 1.8 Mbytes when fully loaded. In one sense that's a lot (and certainly it wasn't fast over my cellular Internet), but compared to other websites it wasn't all that bad, and certainly we nominally get plenty of value from it (unlike hero images).

All of this is far from news; for years, people have been writing about how heavy web pages are and how this affects people with slow Internet and expensive bandwidth. But it had never really affected me, and now it sort of did. Certainly I became much more conscious of just how much bandwidth I could casually go through in a day, even a day when I was consciously trying to stick to the text focused web. Even just using the Internet from home in the evenings, it was hard not to use over 512 Mbytes, and easy to hit 1 Gbytes.

(I have a personal Prometheus and Grafana setup on my home machine for reasons, and it's tempting to add some data panels for 'per day total bandwidth usage'. I'd probably be more routinely aware of it, at least. Although with my DSL back, now I'm doing Fedora package updates and other non-web things that use up bandwidth.)

Comments on this page:

My current job is building a web application. Our marketing/sales team wanted to spruce up the sign-up page to entice customers, and sent over an animated GIF to put on the page, which was almost ten times the size of the entire rest of the bundle. I managed to run it through a GIF-to-webm converter to reduce it to merely equal to the size of the entire rest of the bundle, but it's still stupid and frustrating. I asked for the original so we could re-export it directly and hopefully reduce the size further without quality loss but got no response. Sales and marketing are ruining the internet.

it was hard not to use over 512 Mbytes

I remember when downloading an ISO for a Linux distribution was something I’d schedule for and plan around because it would’ve taken days even while hogging the line, so it had to be stretched out over the course of a week. Nowadays the truck full of disks is still a relevant rhetorical construct; in those days getting in the car just to drive one CD-ROM from one place to another was an actual practical proposition and a routine occurrence.

I was helping out with a news site at the time and we’d spend significant time trying to get the pictures in a news post under a few dozen KB, carefully tweaking the quality on JPEGs and using tricks like slightly pre-blurring then unsharp-masking the images in a photo editor to cram more signal into fewer bytes.

This wasn’t even that long ago.

The bloat is lamentable, but from another angle the fact that we have trouble even noticing it now is a bit of a “holy cow have things gotten better”. It’s just unevenly distributed…

By gerard at 2023-08-31 01:23:09:

I'm late getting to read this article because I've had no internet as an attempt to switch ISPs and coordinate installation dates led to a perfectly natural and understandable eight days without internet. While browsing over 3G on my phone with my not-so-ancient but extremely cheap plan (er, by Canadian standards), I found uBlock Origin's "block large media elements" [over a certain size e.g. 10 KiB] and "block remote fonts" to cut almost all loaded sites from MB to KB -- then I would deliberately load only particular elements. I think you use uMatrix--does it have something like that too?

By Miksa at 2023-08-31 09:40:05:

This discussion brought back amusing memories. Ages past I had a friend in Toronto who had complained about the 60GB monthly cap on his cable internet. Around the same time I was spending Christmas at my parents. That year I received a PlayStation 3 as a present. I subscribed to PlayStation Plus and noticed they had several games available for free that month. I wasn't sure what I needed to do to retain the games, so I connected the PS3 to my cellphone hotspot and started installing the games. Over Christmas I ended up downloading 60GB of PS3 games on my Finnish cell plan. I made sure to rub this on the face of my Canadian friend.

A decade ago I had a similar experience to gerard. My apartment building did a plumbing renovation and they also installed ethernet networking and brought fiber to the building.

Some time later my ADSL connection stopped working. I spent a moment poking at the modem and then jumped to plan B, cellphone hotspot for my laptop and the laptop sharing the Internet to rest of my home network. And all was right in the world again.

Over the following days I tried to tinker with the modem occasionally without success, but the cellphone was working well enough I didn't have much enthusiasm. Finally two weeks later I decided to get it fixed and called to support. During the hold music I thought to check the operator's customer page for my account number and any other relevant information. I was surprised when the customer page said that I had a 100Mb fiber internet instead of the ADSL I thought I had. So I decided to see what happens if I unplug the cable from my modem's LAN port and stick it to the wall socket. Lo and behold, all was even better in the world and I could cut the support call before talking to anyone.

Why do you Canadians acquiesce to this torment, pitchforks and torches exist for a reason. You can be polite when you skewer the CEOs.

Written on 29 August 2023.
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