I’d just finished off a slice of cake in my local coffee shop when the text message arrived from my mobile network, informing me that my quite generous 4 GB data limit had been exceeded.
“Impossible,” I thought, “today’s the beginning of the cycle!”
Thinking that the message was a mistake, I ignored it for a moment. Surely Android’s data usage meter would have alerted me already?
Looking at the internet usage meter I could see that this wasn’t a mistake.
But how could 4 GB have been used so quickly? All I was doing was sitting in a coffee shop, catching up on emails, my laptop using the tethered connection on my smartphone. I decided to go home, but clicking the Start button to put the laptop to sleep, I noticed the following words:
“Restart and update.”
Suddenly, everything was clear. Windows 10 had downloaded an update through my tethered connection, a setting that I was certain I’d explicitly disabled. The problem now was that I couldn’t even find the setting…
Windows 10’s Internet Metering Feature
With Windows 8, Microsoft introduced the ability to toggle whether or not “device software” could be downloaded over a metered connection.
In Windows 8, you would find this in the PC Settings screen, under Devices. The toggle is labelled Metered Internet Connections. Windows 8.1 users, meanwhile, would find it in PC & devices > Devices, where the toggle switch is under the heading Download over metered connections.
In Windows 10, you’ll find the switch in Settings > Devices, again labeled Download over metered connections. To keep your mobile internet bill down, ensure this setting is disabled. Once you’ve done this, it’s time to manage your individual network connections.
What Does Setting a Connection as Metered Do?
Metered connection settings in Windows 10 means that you can place restrictions on data that the operating system downloads in the background. This is extremely useful if you regularly tether your smartphone, or have capped bandwidth from your domestic internet provider.
But how is this advantageous?
Well, there’s my problem, explained above. Windows Update (which can be temporarily disabled) ate my mobile data allowance, but if I had defined the connection as metered, then this would not have happened. Windows 10 doesn’t download updates via metered connections, so I would have made it to the end of the month with the vast majority of my data allowance intact, as usual.
It isn’t just Windows Updates that can be blocked from being downloaded over a metered connection. By setting a wireless network as metered (see below) you can also disable Windows Store app updates (although desktop apps — such as your browser — will auto-update as normal), as well as restrict status/news updates to live tiles. Online activity for Store/Universal apps might also be limited.
Another thing to note is the use of peer-to-peer updates will also be disabled. Microsoft uses P2P networking to reduce impact on its own server bandwidth. Basically this means that when your PC downloads an update, it can be shared from your PC to others on the internet, rather than from Microsoft’s servers.
This is likely to swiftly devour your data allowance, which is why using metered mode is a good idea.
Note: OneDrive currently ignores the metered connection restriction, so you may need to disable syncing manually.
3 Connections You Might Set as Metered
Any connection in Windows 10 can be set as metered. You probably use one or more of these three connection types.
Mobile Internet — Perhaps you use your smartphone as a wireless hotspot, or have a separate mobile hotspot device. Alternatively, your Windows 10 device might have an integrated mobile data connection. Either way, you’ll be able to use metered mode to restrict the downloading of vast updates.
Home Internet — Bandwidth caps are no fun, especially when there is the risk of having to pay a premium when a cap is exceeded. Whether the limit is permanent or only throughout working hours, you should set your home connection as metered.
Slow Internet — People still use 56K analogue dial-up internet connections to get online. Other slow connections include satellite internet and DSL on older cabling infrastructures. If you use any of these three methods for internet access, your connection will be completely crippled should an update begin downloading, so metered mode is an absolute priority for you.
Set Your Network Connections to Metered Mode
In Windows 10, you can set individual network connections to metered. It’s reasonably straightforward, too, and can be applied to individual connections or networks (to limit connections of a particular type — such as 4G, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, etc. — see the next section).
For instance, you might wish to define the connection for your smartphone’s wireless hotspot as metered. Click on the Wi-Fi active icon in the system tray, select the wireless network concerned, and then click Properties.
In the resulting screen, click the Set as metered connection toggle, setting it to On. That’s all you need to do.
If you’re reading this with a Windows 8 PC, you can affect the same change by viewing the list of wireless network connections, right-clicking the corresponding one, and selecting Set as metered connection.
What About My Ethernet Connection?
We’ve been talking mainly about wireless internet tethering and mobile internet connections in Windows 10 so far, but what if you’re connected to your metered domestic internet account via a cabled Ethernet connection to your router?
To fix this, you’ll need to head into the Windows registry. Here, you’ll also be able to tweak the other connection types, but it is Ethernet that we’re currently concerned about.
Press Windows key + Q and type regedit. Tap Enter, or otherwise select the first option in the search results, and expand the left-hand pane to find
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\NetworkList\DefaultMediaCost where you’ll find the various connection types listed.
Two conditions are available, 1 and 2. The former disables metering, while the latter enables it. To enforce metering on your Ethernet connection, right-click the respective value, select Modify…, change the 1 to a 2, and click OK to confirm. Once this change is made (you may need to restart your PC), the Ethernet connection will be subject to the metered restrictions that prevent Windows from swallowing your data in one bite!
Wireless, 4G, and Ethernet connections can be restricted with Windows 10’s download limits for metered connections. Just make sure you have them enabled, or you too could find your data allowance consumed in one day when a Windows Update strikes!
The Wait for Data
Of course, if you’re in my situation, then enabling metered mode will only help next time. My data is gone for the month, which means I’m limited to public Wi-Fi while I’m out and about — something that should never be used without a VPN.
Please, learn from my mistake, and make sure Windows 10 deals responsibly with your data. Specify which connections should be spared from Microsoft-initiated downloads, and avoid paying over the odds for your mobile internet connection.
Has this ever happened to you? Or do you have Windows Update and other app updates completely under control on your Windows 10 device? Tell us in the comments.