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Embrace Windows 10 metered connections to optimize bandwidth

Windows 10 updates are eating up precious bandwidth. Reconfigure the OS to use a metered connection, and crack down on peer-to-peer update sharing.

Windows 10 can consume a lot of bandwidth, but there are some steps IT can take to force Windows to be a bit more frugal with its usage.

Without a doubt, the most effective way to reduce bandwidth consumption is to set up Windows 10 metered connections. A metered connection refers to an internet connection that has bandwidth usage caps, such as mobile broadband or satellite internet providers.

Constructing Windows 10 metered connections

Designating Windows 10 metered connections reduces the amount of data Windows downloads automatically. In fact, clicking on Update and Security within Settings brings up a block of text that says: "We'll automatically download and install updates, except on Windows 10 metered connections (where charges may apply). In that case, we'll automatically download only those updates required to keep Windows running smoothly."

Windows Update
Windows Update checks to see whether or not a network connection is metered.

This statement is somewhat ambiguous. Microsoft did not initially design Windows 10 to download updates over metered connections unless the update was designated as critical. Microsoft switched to a cumulative update model, however, which produces a single large Windows 10 update for each month rather than various smaller updates. The cumulative update supersedes the previous month's updates, and because it is so large, it contains critical updates so it will push through a metered connection.

Designating Windows 10 metered connections reduces the amount of data Windows downloads automatically.

Configuring a network connection to act as a metered connection still has its benefits. The process for designating Windows 10 metered connections varies depending on whether it's a wired or a wireless connection. To designate a metered wired connection, open Settings, go to Network & Internet and click on Ethernet, followed by the icon representing the wired connection. A simple slide bar designates the connection as metered (Figure B). Neither PowerShell nor Group Policy settings offer an easy way to designate a connection as metered.

Slide bar
Use a slide bar to designate a network connection as metered.

When Windows is attached to a metered connection, it will attempt to conserve bandwidth in multiple ways, affecting more than just Windows Update. Windows may prevent certain live tiles from displaying internet data and disable peer-to-peer update sharing.

Peer-to-peer update sharing

Even if IT decides not to use a metered connection, it's important to review how to configure peer-to-peer update sharing because Windows Update does not necessarily download updates directly from Microsoft. With billions of computers running Windows, it would place a huge burden on Microsoft's data center if Windows served updates to all computers individually. Microsoft designed Windows 10 to use peer-to-peer sharing for updates. When a computer downloads an update from Microsoft, it might share that update with other computers on the network or even with other computers on the internet.

To check if Windows is configured to perform peer-to-peer update sharing, click on the Settings icon, and then click on Update & Security. At the Windows Update screen, click on the Advanced Options link, followed by the Delivery Optimization link. The Delivery Optimization screen contains an option to let the PC download updates from other PCs or non-Microsoft sources (Figure C). Enable this option, and the PC will not only download updates from other PCs, but it will also share updates with other PCs.

Peer-to-peer sharing
Be sure to disable peer-to-peer sharing of updates.

Next Steps

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This was last published in August 2017

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