A mobile wifi device can be useful, but it can easily become expensive

Wifi iconBeing able to connect a computer to the internet via the “personal hotspot” feature of a mobile phone is very useful to me when helping my IT Support clients. Sometimes, though, and for reasons I can’t explain, it’s not possible to connect to the phone’s wifi. That is why I still carry a dedicated mobile wifi device with me when making client visits. This seems to offer better connectivity and it provides reassurance in a “belt and braces” way.

My mobile wifi device was getting very old and slow (just like me), so I recently succumbed to EE’s marketing blurb about renewing my long-expired plan, and ended up with a better deal and a new device. Not only that, but I was gobsmacked when DPD actually managed to follow delivery instructions and call me on the mobile when they were outside my door with my brand new device (that would, of course, have just gone through the letterbox if someone would just teach these delivery people how to effect that difficult manoeuvre).

EE data remaining

What? Where did it all go?

So, I set it up, played with it for a while and eventually got back to what I was meant to be doing. An hour or so later I realised that I was still connected to the mobile wifi and not my router. Out of curiosity I checked how much I had used it in the previous hour and was horrified to discover that I’d used nearly 4gb of my 5gb monthly allowance in just one hour. I couldn’t understand it. I’d not done anything on the internet of any significance data-wise in that time.

I knew that Windows was aware that my mobile wifi is a “metered connection”. As such, it is supposed to be careful about not performing internet tasks (such as downloading updates) that would seriously eat into an expensive mobile allowance. Then I checked the “programs and features” option in Control Panel to see if there was any evidence there of any programs updating in the previous hour. Nothing. Next, I wondered if my Synology Network Attached Storage had done a big backup to OneDrive. No, that backup is continuous and I hadn’t recently done anything big.

Dropbox logo

Dropbox automatically uploads data – even on a metered connection

Hmm. After more digging into my backup routines (which, of course, you forget about in the months since setting them up), I realised that I had a routine performing a periodic encrypted backup of essential files that sent the backup to my Dropbox account. And that was it – once a month and it chose that hour to do it. All 4gb of it.

I was very surprised that Dropbox would function like this on a metered connection, so did some digging and found that I’m definitely not the first person to fall into this trap. It seems that Dropbox is NOT aware of metered connections.

On further reflection, I also realised something else about mobile wifi. Uploads as well as downloads are counted as data used from the allowance. This has probably always been the case, but I assumed that only downloads are counted as that is how data allowances used to be calculated on metered broadband connections when we first had the internet. I think that was because almost all domestic internet traffic used to be downloads. That, of course, is no longer the case.

So, I learned a few things that day:

  • Not to forget to switch back from a mobile wifi connection to a broadband connection as soon as possible
  • To stay aware if using mobile wifi that some routines can gobble up your allowance in a flash
  • That mobile wifi uploads are as expensive as downloads
  • That DPD can actually follow instructions sometimes

PS: talk of DPD reminds me that I heard a good joke on “The News Quiz” recently to the effect that Amazon are no longer in the business of home delivery. These days, it’s more akin to fly-tipping.

Easy to get caught out – but easy to fix

meterOn Monday, I was working on a client’s computer when my phone pinged. It was EE (my mobile provider) warning me that I’d run out of data allowance for the month. I thought it was odd, but I’d got my Microsoft Surface laptop connected to the internet by the “personal hotspot” on my phone, so it wasn’t that strange. I simply moved 2gb of unused data from my mobile wifi account to my phone and carried on working. A minute later, the phone pinged again. Another text message saying the same thing. What? Sure enough, I was about to run out of allowance again. I’d just used another 2gb of precious mobile data.

wifi-settingsI hadn’t used my Microsoft Surface much recently as it’s the machine I carry when making visits to my IT Support clients – and we all know why that hadn’t happened recently. So, it hadn’t had much of an opportunity to install Microsoft’s latest updates. And – you’ve guessed – it was using my modest mobile phone and mobile wifi data allowances to download gerzillions of megabytes of Windows updates that could easily have waited until I was connected to my unlimited wifi at home.

manage-known-networksThe answer is actually very simple. On the Windows installation on the Microsoft Surface, I should have marked both my mobile phone and mobile wifi (a separate device with a separate data plan for providing wifi on the move) as “metered connections”. Had I previously done this, Windows would not have attempted to download the updates: it would have waited until I switched the Surface on at home, in range of my normal wifi. In fact, as soon as I made the changes to Windows, Norton Antivirus also popped up a message (that I didn’t read properly before it disappeared) suggesting that it, too, wouldn’t waste precious data when connected to a metered connection.

Set-as-metered-connectionSo, if you are in the habit of using either a mobile wifi device or your phone to give a wifi connection to your computer, then I would definitely recommend making the simple change(s) as described below.

As an aside, this is also a way of preventing Windows from ever updating. Simply tell it that your home wifi connection is metered. This won’t prevent the updating, of course, if you also have a wired ethernet connection. Personally, I recommend allowing Windows to update at home in the normal way.

Anyway, changing a wifi connection into a metered wifi connection:

  • Open Windows Settings by clicking on the Start button and then clicking on the cogwheel, or by depressing the Windows key and tapping the letter “i”.
  • In the “Find a setting” box, type “wifi” (without the quotes).
  • In the list that comes up, tap on “Wifi Settings”.
  • Click on “Manage known networks”. You will then be presented with a list of all the wifi networks that your Windows device remembers you have connected to.
  • Click on the name of your mobile wifi hotspot, and then click on “Properties”.
  • Scroll down to the section entitled “Metered connection” and, under “set as metered connection”, slide the switch to the right.
  • Repeat for any other wifi connections that you’ve used before and which you wish to set as metered.
  • Close the Settings window by clicking on the “X” (top right) as usual.

That’s it!

With Windows 10 we can no longer choose if we want Windows updates, let alone which ones we want

Windows10 - another logoThe option in the Windows control panel that used to allow us to choose how to receive Windows updates isn’t present in Windows 10. And that’s because we don’t really have a choice any more. Updates will be delivered to us more-or-less as and when Microsoft decide. What’s more, we can’t choose whether to accept updates for, say, Windows Defender but not for driver updates. We are just going to have to suck it up and accept whatever Microsoft give us (and don’t get me started on the rumours that Microsoft may soon start to include advertising in Windows – see this link on advertising in Windows, for instance).

Windows 10 - Setting a Metered Connection

Slide the switch to the right to turn off updating, but remember that this only applies to the wifi network to which you are currently connected

There is only one way to stop the updates and there is no flexibility in it: you either accept all the updates that Microsoft want to install on your computer or you accept none of them. If you accept none of them then you have to keep it that way. You can’t just turn the updates on so that you can get your hands on that one driver update that will allow you play that mega good addictive game again that suddenly broke a while back. If you turn the updates on for that one driver then ALL updates will be installed. True enough that you can turn the updates off again, but that only stops future updates. There’s no way to selective install or ignore updates that are currently available.

OK, so let’s assume for one moment that you are one of that allegedly large band of people who are so upset at this state of affairs that they will happily cut their noses off to spite their faces. How do you go about sticking your finger in the dyke that is Windows Updates? You have to configure Windows so that it thinks you are on a metered internet connection.

Before I list the steps involved in this, let’s be clear about the shortcomings:

  • You have to tell Windows every time that you connect to a new wifi network that this is a metered connection (but, thereafter, it is meant to remember for all time that that connection is metered).
  • It only applies to wifi connections. If you connect to your router via an ethernet cable then there’s no way of turning off the updates. I wonder how far up the Microsoft food chain someone decided “never mind those people who have data caps on their internet connection, our updates will come out of their data allowance whether they like it or not”?

There is one small (and it is small, really) exception to this if you have one of the enterprise or “professional” versions of Windows 10. In those versions, there is an option to delay the installation of updates. I’ve been unable to find out how long the delay is for, but I have read that it is “several months”. Clearly, the aim of this is to make us poor suckers with “home” versions of Windows 10 do all the road testing on updates before poor, under-resourced, enterprises have to contend with them.

OK, that said, this is how you go about telling Windows 10 that your wifi connection is metered:

  • Make sure that you are connected to your wifi network
  • Click on the Start Menu
  • Click on Settings
  • Click on Network & Internet
  • Click on Wi-FI
  • Scroll down below the list of available wifi networks and click on Advanced Options
  • Slide the switch below “Set as metered connection” to the right
  • Close the Settings window

Remember, though, that you need to repeat this for every new wireless network that you connect to.

Satya Nadella - CEO of Microsoft

Satya Nadella – CEO of Microsoft. Bully? Moi?

Am I the only one who gets an increasing sense that we are losing control of our own computers?

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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