Living with data caps in Zimbabwe


unimited-browsingIf we lived in a perfect world, all of us would have an unlimited internet connection on which you could do anything from video conferencing, watching movies and playing internet games. Of course such a connection does exist – you could obtain one from a provider locally but you’d have to give them your first born son in exchange. Chances are that the service is expensive: PowerTel, for example, sells their fiber connection at $934.31/mbps. And if you are tempted to shop around looking for the best price just remember the words of JP Morgan “, if you gotta ask the price then you can’t afford it.”


The rest of us have to live with data caps be they mobile data caps such as those from Econet or Telecel or ISP data caps from ZOL, Aptics etc. In my experience most ISPs do not offer really uncapped internet but instead their traffic is shaped. The fair usage clause usually hidden somewhere within their contracts often means reducing your internet connection to a crawl the more you use. Many people have been caught out and have had their service reduced to dial-up speed for the last week or so of their payment cycle. ZOL and Yo!Africa call this the best efforts pool. This is not greed on their part; they are in the business for money and data caps are a proven and sound strategy to avoid losses.

Now what is a poor man to do? What are some of the best tips and tricks for controlling your internet usage? My trusted friend Google brought up the following tips.

  • Get Good Usage Meter. I recommend BitMeter. BitMeter 2 can run as a transparent overlay on your screen or in the system tray. It provides real-time as well as cumulative logging and also ISP alert levels. Also visit PCMag and take your pick for a bandwidth meter. Better still are the various add-ons that are available for the various browsers. The best ones display a bar-graph in your tool-bar that displays your usage.
  • Avoid Skype– Skype can easily gobble up your bandwidth even when it is idle. Always exit from Skype when you are not using it or expecting a call.
  • Cut back on video downloads and streaming. This means reduced sorties to to watching that karate cat.
  • Decrease the resolution of Videos– I love cricket and have found that even though the ball is small you can still follow it at 360p on
  • Take control of ambush videos such as ads– Always take care to close pop ups as soon as they jump out. Some of them load HD videos that can eat away your bandwidth.
  • Think carefully about cloud music services and similar integration packages between PC, laptop, Pads and phones. You do not want to gift all your bandwidth to ZIFM
  • Share photos carefully considering their size, and don’t send your whole collection to friends.
  • Update your operating system with care for the download times and servers. For example always update outside peak period when bandwidth is at least cheaper or free for Yo!Africa and ZOL. Also take advantage of the local update servers and save on your international bandwidth.
  • Avoid e-mail attachments and images.
  • Browse e-mail subject lines before you download to your computer.
  • Compress images and Use JPG and PNG 
  • Compress your files and folders using zipping utilities.
  • Restrict your online backups. 
  •  Amalgamate your web 2.0 pages – are you checking all of your online accounts ie. Flickr, Facebook, Myspace, twitter etc? Setting up something like Netvibes might help you combine these all in one place like this
  • Turn off System internet use where possible – Check out what processes are running in your taskbar and task manager. Close all unnecessary programs.
  • Make sure you’re caching – make sure your system isn’t re-downloading content every time you visit pages.
  •  Clean Home page – set home pages to – this is the lightest page ever when compared services like Yahoo! And MSN.
  • Set auto Disconnects set your system to auto-disconnect if Idle for more than maybe 5 min or so.

Most of the advice is nothing new, just a series of reminders. If you work in the IT department of your organization please consider printing these tips and conscientize people on the importance of saving bandwidth.

If you have any other tips especially for Zimbabwe please share them.

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18 thoughts on “Living with data caps in Zimbabwe

  1. My teenage nephew was around for the Christmas holidays and he gobbled 35GB in 20 days!!! Thanks to Music downloads, YouTube and other sleazy video streaming websites.

  2. You can download opera Browser its saves megabytes a lot avoid using google chrome,internet explorer they chew a lot of megabytes

  3. very good article indeed, would love to see something similar but for smartphones. I work in an Internet Cafe and half the people I see complain that their so called smart phones are gobbling up their airtime, especially newly android converts. I’d love to write something down but thanks to twitter, i can hardly compose anything longer than 140 characters. lol

    1. Bandwidth-sensitive Android owners should disable system-side sync and manually sync each app separately. If they really want to micromanage, then ought to disable background-sync for all apps, and then turn on for a few apps they need.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. Turning off anti-virus updates, disabling Windows auto updates, etc is simply not how the internet is supposed to work. Charging customers for internet usage by the byte is the height of greediness by Zimbabwean internet service providers. Are the service providers themselves charged per byte when they connect to the sea cables?

  5. Couldnt agree with you more Culprit, yes your post is very naive, mobile operators’ business models are based on a last mile access solution that was engineered around voice, then data was added on later, like an after thought. Imagine trying to engineer a man to give birth through his you-know-what, there wont be much “bandwidth” there hey. Point being, its costly for mobile operators to provision high-speed internet access via legacy 2g/3g networks, the data “pipe” is too narrow for blazing fast internet, which slows down your speed so everyone can get a little. Also, internet over 3g networks is bleeding mobile operators due to the explosion of over-the-top services like WhatsApp, Skype, Viber which are eating into mobile operators traditional sms, mms and voice revenues. So no, you cant have your cake and eat it too

  6. Hey I don’t understand why you recommend avoiding skype on 2nd position on your list when skype, according to the skype support website uses only 0-4 kbit/s when idle. That is rather negligible if you don’t have to look at every MB in a month.
    Instead you should put facebook on number 1 because remaining in your facebook window whilst online will allow the browser to reload the entire huge facebook page about twice per minute.
    At my workplace we had to ban and block facebook because it used more bandwidth than any other website or service in the office (haha).
    Same is true for remaining logged in your gmail or yahoo etc., pages that reload automatically all the time. For keeping on top of your emails without huge data usage, I recommend Mozilla Thunderbird, so much better and cooler than Micrososoft outlook.

    So please, as much as I appreciate your effort, the research for your article could have been done much better!

    1. I agree with FB but Skype does gobble lots of data never mind what their website says. The truth is Skype is never idle. Just Google it! Also installing Skype would be counter to whole purpose of saving bandwidth in the first place. If you dont believe me buy a VSAT and Econet’s 500mb package,make a video call as most users are wont to do and you will tell me.

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