Is it better to use a phone app or to tether?
September 24, 2020 10:48 AM   Subscribe

I’ve lost my home broadband temporarily and have to use only what I can get on my cell phone, which can be variable depending on conditions. Need some help figuring out how to make best use of what data capacity that I have.

I need to do some Zoom calls/meetings for work. Does it use less bandwidth to Zoom directly on the phone (using the phone app) rather than tether the phone to the laptop and Zoom using the computer? Is less data being transferred for the phone Zoom because the image is smaller? Or does the same amount of data come through no matter what and both devices just size it to their specifications?

Bonus points if you don’t judge me for not understanding the internet. It’s a series of tubes, right? :)
posted by mccxxiii to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't be surprised if something like Zoom has more optimizations to compress video in the phone app, as opposed to on the desktop - it doesn't show all the participants by default, for example, although I'm not sure if it's still streaming them. You could set your PC installation of Zoom up to be as low-bandwidth as possible, but it's probably easier to do it in the phone app.
posted by sagc at 10:57 AM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Zoom on your phone is going to be optimized for cellular connections, so that's your best bet. Zoom's site lists bandwidth requirements here.

There's also going to be some slight network overhead funneling your PC's traffic over the tethered connection rather than just using the phone app directly.
posted by jzb at 11:00 AM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

A cell phone will use a lot less data for almost anything you do, it’s built with data efficiency in mind. Your laptop or desktop is optimized for power and convenience. I used my laptop to do some tethered work awhile back, and even just web traffic used a lot more data, not even trying to do streaming media.
posted by skewed at 11:01 AM on September 24, 2020

I think the real question you want to ask is are you actually set up to stop everything else on your laptop from using the tethered data once you connect? Depending on your OS it can be difficult to stop background tasks from running and eating your bandwidth, things like Windows update, software updates etc. So if you login to Zoom using chrome, chrome may be silently downloading its own update in the background. There is a setting to tel apps your current connection is metered (limited) in Windows 10, but even with metered connections turned on in Windows 10, the OS will still force you to download some critical updates..

In the past I have used the Tripmode firewall app for this, which allows you to set a list of what is and what is not allowed to use your current internet connection.

But if you want to keep things simple the best bet is to just use the phone app.
posted by tiamat at 11:04 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Every workplace has evolved its own culture around Zoom meetings. Even if it’s not the norm for yours, if no one needs to lip-read from you, you may be able to save data just by explaining your current technical constraints and turning off your video feed. We’ve all got to be accommodating.
posted by mumkin at 11:10 AM on September 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Something to keep in mind is that a lot of tethering (at least in the US) pulls from a smaller data pool than the phone. So besides potentially using more data tethering, you may have less tethering data available.
posted by wotsac at 11:17 AM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Zoom also has a "call in" feature where you can just call the number for the meeting. Highly recommended if your phone service is faster than your internet service.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:13 PM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

These are all great answers, thank you! Going to stick to the phone app and try to get away with turning off my camera halfway through. Thanks everybody!!
posted by mccxxiii at 1:40 PM on September 24, 2020

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