How to Use Your Router to Monitor Broadband Usage
By Ashley Poland
With more Internet service providers putting bandwidth caps on residential accounts, it's important to know how much data you use and which programs use up that data. While many programs will monitor the bandwidth on a single computer, running and managing bandwidth monitors on several computers can become complicated. Unfortunately, not all routers support bandwidth monitoring.
Why Monitor at the Router
Measuring bandwidth at the router establishes the most accurate bandwidth usage; it includes not just your main computer, but also any wireless devices such as tablets, smartphones and gaming consoles. The only measure of bandwidth usage that's more accurate for billing purposes is logging in to your ISP's website and checking your bandwidth usage there.
Monitoring Bandwidth With Native Firmware
If the native firmware built into your router supports it, you can view your bandwidth usage by logging in to the router settings page. Unfortunately, this feature isn't built-in to many commercial routers. Some Netgear routers have a built-in "Traffic Meter" in the Monitoring section. As of November 2013, Linksys routers have not introduced a bandwidth monitoring feature. If you're in the market for a router, you might consider a Buffalo router, as it includes bandwidth monitoring as part of the default firmware (DD-WRT).
Monitoring With Custom Firmware
For routers that don't have a built-in bandwidth monitor, you can install custom firmware that does offer a bandwidth monitor. DD-WRT is the most popular custom router firmware; while it doesn't come with a bandwidth monitor pre-installed, it does offer an installable module called BWlog that shows bandwidth use. It works on most routers, but you should check the supported router database before replacing your router firmware. Tomato is another option for custom firmware, and it comes with the tools for monitoring your bandwidth pre-installed. Note that changing the firmware on your router will void the warranty and there's a small chance that doing so could "brick" your router.
When your router doesn't offer a bandwidth monitor and installing custom firmware isn't an option, your last resort is a software-based bandwidth monitor. Paessler's PRTG Network Monitor runs on your computer, but can monitor all the traffic that passes through your router using several different monitoring methods, including SNMP monitoring, packet sniffing and NetFlow. This program is free for up to ten users.
Ashley Poland has been writing since 2009. She has worked with local online businesses, supplying print and web content, and pursues an active interest in the computer, technology and gaming industries. In addition to content writing, Poland is also a fiction writer. She studied creative writing at Kansas State University.