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How to conserve YouTube bandwidth usage

Monitoring YouTube Bandwidth Usage

How to conserve YouTube bandwidth usage on any network

How to conserve YouTube bandwidth usage is an issue faced by many network managers. YouTube is one of the most popular services on the Internet and, for me, it is my number one go to resource for technical information and entertainment.

My favorite channels range from a guy who takes apart random electronic devices to another, who can repair anything on four wheels; I think everyone has their favorites. The YouTube interface hasn’t changed very much over the years, but the quality of the videos has increased significantly.

One of the reasons YouTube network activity seems to have increased in recent years is not necessarily that the social media channel has become more popular. It has more to do with YouTube bandwidth requirements. 4k video support was added in 2010 and more recently 4k streaming support was announced. So, without doubt, YouTube bandwidth usage is at the forefront of most Network Managers’ minds.

Blocking YouTube Network Activity is Not an Ideal Solution

YouTube in the workplace has always been a difficult relationship. HR departments worry about employees wasting time watching videos, and IT or Network Administrators worry about the way it can consume bandwidth. Blocking YouTube is never a great idea, as essentially you will end up blocking access to a fantastic learning resource.

Blocking introduces a further issue, in that people will try to find a way around this block.  Applications like Hola allow users to get around web filters. When this happens their attack surface increases, as they will be able to access any website, including those hosting malware. If you want to monitor network traffic for this type of activity, I took a look at how you can use DNS metadata to see those clients running applications like Hola in a previous blog post.

One way to conserve YouTube bandwidth usage is to get users to watch videos at lower resolution. There is a massive difference in bandwidth use if you watch a video at the lowest setting when compared to the maximum. YouTube will always try and use the maximum setting, so you can have the best viewing experience.

If employees need YouTube access during work hours, they will rarely need to watch videos in high definition. Dropping down to 480p or less will result in less bandwidth use and less congestion at Internet gateways. Provided users comply with acceptable use policies, this way to conserve YouTube bandwidth usage should keep both HR Departments and Network Administrators happy.

YouTube Bandwith Usage

How much bandwidth does YouTube use?

Lets take a look at YouTube bandwidth use when different resolution settings are selected. For these tests, I used our own LANGuardian product to monitor traffic on my Internet gateway. The graphs show bandwidth use on my Internet gateway over the course of about 2 hours, as I watched one video on YouTube and increased the resolution settings during this time period.

YouTube @ 144p

Watching YouTube videos at the lowest resolution used up about .1Mb/s of bandwidth on my test network. However, they quality of the playback was poor. It is ideal if you just want to listen to some music with the video part minimized.

YouTube 144p

YouTube @ 480p

Increasing the resolution up to 480p increased bandwidth use up to around 1.6Mb/s. For most YouTube playback in the workplace, this is a good setting. Video and audio will be clear.

YouTube 480p

YouTube @ 1080p

Once you start playing YouTube videos in HD mode you start to eat up enough bandwidth to put a dent in many Internet connections. My own tests reported YouTube bandwidth use at around 3.5Mb/s while watching a single video in 1080p HD mode. As I mentioned earlier, there is no need to be streaming content at these rates for most use cases.

YouTube 1080p

YouTube @ 2160p

Watching YouTube videos at the current highest resolution of 2160p (also known as 4k) will eat a lot of bandwidth. For my own test, I showed levels around 20Mb/s while watching one video. This can increase to 30Mb/s if your playback equipment can support it.

YouTube 2160p

The Benefits of Monitoring YouTube Network Traffic

Being able to monitor YouTube usage in such detail has its benefits. Network managers can identify when users are exceeding acceptable use YouTube bandwidth requirements – even on wireless connections – and impose bandwidth limits on YouTube network traffic to stop persistent offenders.

Monitoring YouTube network traffic with a deep packet inspection solution such as LANGuardian can also help resolve network issues such as WAN connectivity problems. With LANGuardian, Network Administrators are able to detect the root causes of the issues and resolve them quickly.

Monitoring a network to control and conserve YouTube bandwidth usage is therefore a better solution than blocking access to the social media site or trying to enforce an unenforceable acceptable use policy. If you allow YouTube network activity in the workplace, and monitor YouTube usage effectively, you could resolve many more issues than employees wasting time watching videos.

Conclusion: Education rather than eradication

In my experience, it is better to educate users on the appropriate use of YouTube during normal business hours. You will find that it is almost impossible to eradicate YouTube out of the workplace. So, it is best to have network traffic monitoring tools in place to check on YouTube bandwidth usage. In the event, someone is continuously hogging bandwidth, remind them of your fair usage policy! Finally, if you need to research something or any such, watch your videos in low resolution where possible.