RBGAN: Details about Bandwidth Costs

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by Matt Blair
Posted: 4/15/2004

What does it cost to use the RBGAN? After the initial purchase, usage fees are charged based on how much information you send and receive. The direct cost is US$9.74 per megabyte, or approximately US$.01 per kilobyte. But in regular usage, what does that mean? Here are a few examples of what it costs to transmit information:

A 500-word text-only email about 5 cents
This webpage about 15 cents
A two-page Word document about 45 cents
A photo taken with a three mega-pixel digital camera about $15-20
Note: All prices in US Dollars.

To determine the size of any web page in Internet Explorer, right-click and then select Properties. Look for the size, which is listed in bytes. At a cost of about one cent per kilobyte, you can then estimate the price of the page by dropping the last three digits (or dividing by 1000). For example, if the page size is listed as 27,182 bytes, the cost is about 27 cents.

There is also some variable amount of overheard involved depending upon whether the information is sent over a secure or unsecured web connection, via ftp, as an email attachment, etc., so it is a good idea to round up when making cost estimates. You can keep track of your current usage using TeleNor's account management system. (See the RBGAN Tips page for details)

Video (and audio) streaming should be used with careful consideration, as they will incur significant bandwidth fees.

Also, many computers have programs installed that run in the background, and make use of network connections when they are available. Even if these programs are not visibly running on your computer, they can still generate network traffic behind the scenes, and this traffic will affect your monthly bills. Possible culprits include:

  • Automated Windows Updates
  • Automated anti-virus defintion updates
  • Other programs checking for updates or patches
  • Spyware
  • File-sharing programs like Kazaa

We do not suggest that you disable either Windows Updates or anti-virus definition updates, but it is a good idea to change the settings so you can control the bandwidth used by them. We recommend that all machines be cleared of spyware and file-sharing programs before field deployment.

Web-based Email Accounts

We have received several questions about using web-based email accounts over the RBGAN, and our research provides a good example of how important it is to pay attention to bandwidth. In most cases, we encourage our user community to use email client software such as Outlook, Outlook Express, or Eudora to access their email via the POP3/SMTP/IMAP protocols.

Our test scenario involves receiving a 2k (kilobyte) message and sending a 3k reply. Using POP3/SMTP or IMAP, there would be a few kilobytes of overhead as your mail software logs in and out of the server. Assuming that this overhead is 4k, the total amount of traffic is about 9k, so the cost would be about 9 cents. (All prices are in US Dollars.)

Now consider the same scenario with web-based email. The email server has to 'draw' the screen for each page as you are working with your email, and this boosts the network traffic considerably. We tested two different web-based email accounts. The first is a relatively sparse interface provided by the IMail software package, a standard feature provided by our own web presence provider, Sterling Communications. The other account is a 'free' account provided by Yahoo Mail. Here are the results:

Yahoo Mail
Login Page
Welcome Page
Viewing a 2k message
Sending a 2k reply
Return to Inbox
Logout Page
Total Bandwidth Used
Total Cost (at $9.74 per megabyte)

Unless it is specifically designed for low-bandwidth usage, we expect all web-based email accounts are in the range of 10 to 20 times more expensive than using mail software pre-installed on your laptop or PDA.

Please note that there would be significant differences in the bandwidth used by Outlook installed on a laptop, and Outlook Web Access (aka OWA). We have not had a chance to directly evaluate the amount of traffic generated in an OWA session, but it would probably be similar to the results above. If you are unsure which version of Outlook you are using, check with your IT staff.

If there are any additional applications you plan to use over the RBGAN, HumaniNet can assist you in analyzing the bandwidth costs, as well as assess any security considerations related to these applications. Please contact us for more details.

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