In the dark days of the 1990s, trying to use the internet at night could be a fraught experience.
It wasn’t uncommon for connection attempts to be greeted with a busy tone, while successfully getting online would see data transfers of a few kilobits per second.
Dial-up connections simply couldn’t cope with the volumes of rush hour traffic, resulting in a digital gridlock familiar to commuters across the UK.
It’s tempting to assume the vastly superior connection speeds provided by broadband connections have banished the internet rush hour to the annals of history.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case…
Band of bother
Data published in November 2018 by Ofcom revealed significant disparities in the performance of residential fixed-line broadband services at peak times.
This is the period between 7pm and 11pm, when homework research has to compete for bandwidth against streaming media services, online gaming and social media.
While many customers might not notice an appreciable difference in their line speeds throughout a typical day, some services are prone to slowdowns in the evening.
Virgin Media 350 customers in the north-west of England saw their connection speeds drop by over 61Mbps at peak times.
Indeed, Virgin Media broadband subscribers experienced the 18 biggest falls in peak transfer speeds – admittedly on downloads typically exceeding 100Mbps.
Rush hour’s impact is felt more keenly on slower connections.
BT Fibre to the Cabinet customers in south-east England reported a peak time speed drop of almost 50 per cent, while some customers in Scotland lost 30 per cent of their line speed.
That’s clearly a problem if the 7pm to 11pm slot is the only period when you’re able to settle down in front of a box set, or fire up the PlayStation.
However, these steps ought to make an appreciable difference…
Avoiding internet rush hour
- Check the TV schedules. Once a week, go through your electronic programme guide, setting any interesting programmes or films to record as they’re broadcast.
This eliminates the need to stream or download them later, removing a leading drain on bandwidth resources.
- Download TV programmes overnight. If you missed a programme that everyone’s been talking about at work, set it to download just before going to bed.
By the time you wake up, it’ll be available to watch in full on your device’s hard drive, without consuming any bandwidth as it’s playing.
- Set updates to happen overnight. If your smartphone wants to download a new OS patch, or antivirus software requires an update, schedule it to occur between 2am and 5am.
Not only will this avoid any inconvenience while the device is rebooting and installing new software, it won’t burden your peak time connection.
- Turn off certain devices. Every internet-enabled device is likely to be sending and receiving information constantly, but that’s more of a problem at 8pm than 4am.
Deactivating or turning off a handful of web-enabled gadgets could have a noticeable effect on your broadband speeds.
- Investigate smartphone app activity. Some apps are constantly summoning and distributing data, placing additional strain on an already overstretched connection.
Turning off automatic notifications, rescheduling updates and hibernating (or deleting) data-hungry apps will reduce your smartphone’s data consumption.
- Improve router efficiency. Routers periodically benefit from being rebooted and having their software updated.
Repositioning a router centrally within the house should enhance connection speeds, and moving it away from metal, concrete or glass also helps to optimise transfer speeds.
- Use Ethernet rather than WiFi. If your connection speed is already slow, wireless connections will bog it down further on individual devices.
Wherever possible, hardwire games consoles, smart TVs and computers directly into the Ethernet ports on your broadband router, for a faster and more stable connection.
- Investigate alternative broadband providers. There’s little point swapping one Openreach-powered provider for another, but switching to cable might be worth considering.
Ofcom’s market analysis showed Virgin Media consistently achieved the fastest average transfer speeds – reducing the impact of internet rush hour on individual consumers.