A study conducted in the U.K. found that Internet speeds decrease by roughly 35 percent between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m. (local time). These peak hours see more people online than any other and often result in slower download speeds, making it more difficult to engage in social media and video streaming.
What slows down the Internet?
Though the study was conducted in the U.K., this trend is seen around the world. In 2011 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found that top broadband providers saw decreased speeds to around 80 percent of the top advertised speeds during weeknights when families were most likely to be at home and using the Internet.
For most Internet users, the reason for the slowdown is simple: connections requiring cables get congested when too many users are online at once. In a neighborhood where cable Internet is the norm, cables are shared among every household with Internet. So when multiple households are attempting to watch movies on Netflix, post on Facebook, or download the latest Taylor Swift album, the resulting high bandwidth essentially clogs the pipes, so to speak.
Catching up on “Orange is the New Black” or any other show on Netflix might be one of the biggest causes of Internet slowdown. The video service now accounts for 36.5 percent of all downstream Internet bandwidth during peak usage hours in the U.S.
At 15.6 percent, YouTube sapped up the second highest amount of bandwidth during peak hours, while Facebook snared only 2.7 percent. Web browsing in general uses 6 percent of Internet bandwidth altogether.
Meanwhile, HBO’s Internet services use substantial portions of bandwidth only when “Game of Thrones” is showing. No surprise there.
Can I speed things up?
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to increase Internet speeds. You could try mounting a campaign to get your neighbors to stop logging on in the evenings, but it’s hard to imagine that going over well.
There are really only two solutions. First, you can decrease the amount of time you and your family get online after 7 p.m. by downloading shows ahead of time and watching them offline. You can also try updating your social media statuses during the middle of the day or catching up with your friends early in the morning instead.
Your second option is to upgrade to fiber-optic Internet. Fiber is the fastest Internet available at this time and also provides the largest bandwidth. It uses light to transmit data, whereas traditional DSL and cable infrastructures use electricity. Light transmission results in larger data capacities and prevents congestion. You get maximum speeds 24/7 no matter how many people in your area are online.
Fiber-optic Internet isn’t readily available in every city or town at this time. While Google Fiber is making strides to expand their reach, customers need to demonstrate significant interest in fiber to increase the chances of it spreading.
Until then, congestion during peak hours is something we all have to learn to live with. Adjust to the slowdown by fitting in as much of your Internet browsing and video viewing throughout odd hours of the day.
If you’re concerned about your cable broadband speeds and want to make sure slowdowns are occurring due to peak hours, you can check your speed through the FCC’s broadband testing site.
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