Secrets to beat the broadband rush hour

Wednesday, 19 April, 2017

A new report from Ofcom sheds light on the true scale of the broadband rush hour at peak times and the severe impact it has on downloads.

The study, UK Home Broadband Performance, analysed data up to November 2016 and found 9pm to 10pm was the worst time to try getting online.

The slowest kind of connection, ADSL, only offers speeds ‘up to 17Mbps; and is hit hardest by throttling when most people are trying to access the internet.

The report found that ADSL users were only getting 57 per cent of that higher speed at peak times.

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‘Peak’ times are the hours between 8pm and 10pm, with 9pm to 10pm the busiest time of the day when broadband speeds are at their slowest.

When is the fastest speed possible?

Night owls gain the most from being online later, the report found.

Average download speeds reached their highest point between midnight and 6am when most users had closed down their broadband connections.

Fibre broadband rides the rush hour best

Fibre broadband barely suffers at all from peak times, only losing 3 per cent of its average speed.

And while fibre broadband, which – depending on where you are in the country – offers download speeds of up to 38Mbps, 52Mbps and 76Mbps, speeds reached 86 per cent, 91 per cent and 78 per cent of these advertised speeds at peak times.

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Cable hit hardest by broadband rush hour

The report shows that cable broadband suffers the worst from the increased traffic at peak times, with an average speed 21 per cent slower than the speeds reached between 12am and 6am.

During the broadband rush hour, cable 50Mbps connections only achieve 84 per cent of that speed, 100Mbps achieve 79 per cent of the maximum speed and 200Mbps connections get just 75 per cent of promised speeds.

Despite this, average cable speeds are around twice as fast as fibre so, even at peak times, cable customers are still getting faster broadband than those on fibre connections.

Guide: ADSL vs Cable vs Fibre: Which is best for home broadband

Current guidelines set out by the Advertising Standards Authority demand that just one in 10 people have to be able to get the the numbers advertised by ISPs.

That means 90 percent of us are not getting the speed advertised when we’re sold packages.

With such loose standards, it’s no wonder that speeds can drop so significantly beneath the advertised amounts during peak times.

So which setup is best for beating broadband rush hour?

Cable is more prone to experiencing problems during peak times due to the infrastructure of cable networks where traffic congestion occurs closer to the customer’s end of the connection.

Reducing the effect of peak traffic would mean going through the expensive process of upgrading lots of individual devices.

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While cable loses the most speed during peak times, the higher overall speeds of the network still easily beat out its fibre competitors.

The impact of high usage with ADSL and fibre broadband is surprisingly small.

The cause of lower than expected speeds for these connections seem to mainly be the result of long distances between the customer and their nearest telephone exchange or street cabinet.

If network congestion is a problem for you, keeping bandwidth-demanding tasks to a minimum between 8pm and 10pm could certainly help with your broadband experience – no matter what kind of connection you are using.

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Tom Rodgers author picture


Tom is a tech journalist and former Editor at