Low bandwidth internet browsing


When I’m on fieldwork, the speed of the internet varies a lot. Sometimes I’m on a satellite connection charged per MB, and sometimes I’m on a restrictive local network that only gives its users 2GB a month of data. Often, I’m working from the WiFi tethered to my phone with a local SIM card and however much data I can afford to load on. In these cases, limiting data usage is something of a challenge, to eek out as much content as possible. Over time I’ve come up with a few things which help to limit my data usage and this is a summary of them.

I frequently use Facebook to communicate with people back home when I’m on fieldwork. This is mainly because of “free.facebook.com”, a version of Facebook which is included in Facebook’s “Free Basics” package . It allows use of a stripped down version of Facebook and importantly, use of their messaging service, without spending any data on the network. In Tanzania, Angola, DRC, Namibia, and probably loads of other countries in Africa there is at least one mobile network which is part of the Free Basics deal. Free Basics also provides access to BBC news, which is a good time-waster.

If I’m on a slow WiFi connection rather than a mobile network, I can still use [mbasic.facebook.com], which provides basically the same version of Facebook as Free Basics.

For checking email, I find it’s best to use a local email client, preferably one where you can request emails in plain text rather than HTML to limit the downloading of images. I use neomutt with offlineimap , but I don’t see why something more user friendly like Thunderbird or Claws can’t be used instead. If a web-app is truly necessary, Gmail has a HTML only interface which loads a lot faster than their normal web-app. It can be accessed at: [https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/h].

For web browsing, a fully fledged GUI web browser will eat a lot of data. Instead, I try to use lynx where I can. Lynx is a terminal-based browser which can’t load Javascript or CSS, and cookies can even be disabled through its configuration. w3m is a good alternative to lynx. When a GUI browser is absolutely necessary it’s a good idea to disable Javascript and also to have an ad-blocker to disable unecessary images.

For downloading files I tend to use wget with the link to the file, to prevent me navigating through a load of menus to get to the download link, but of course this only works if you have a full download link for the file, and not just a website.