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5am is Best for the Fastest UK Broadband Speeds and 9pm the Slowest

Thursday, September 25th, 2014 (8:01 am) - Score 734

A new uSwitch study, which analysed data from 3.1 million UK Internet speedtests between 1st July 2013 and 30th June 2014, has concluded that consumers get the best broadband ISP performance if they go online at 5am (least busy) and the slowest if they start surfing at 9pm; a drop in speed of 21% was recorded between these periods.

The study found that broadband download speeds averaged 18.1Mbps at 5am in the morning, which fell to 14.3Mbps at 9pm (night). An identical study conducted by the same group one year earlier reported that 4am was the fastest (14.83Mbps) and once again 9pm delivered the slowest (10.72Mbps) performance, which equated to a more dramatic drop of 28%. The less aggressive fall this year suggests that ISPs are improving their network capacity and or its management.

A closer look at the largest UK towns and cities revealed that Exeter, Chester and Bath all saw the biggest fall in performance between peak and off-peak hours, with all suffering a dramatic drop of greater than 50%. However, in country terms, it’s Wales that fares the worst, with speeds falling by 48% between the two periods. Meanwhile Scotland saw the smallest drop of 17%, with England on 18% and Northern Ireland at 19%.

A table of the top 30 UK towns and cities with the biggest changes in speed has been included below.

peak versus off-peak broadband isp speeds uk 2014

The results are of course entirely unsurprising. Home broadband remains a shared “Best Efforts” service, which means that ISPs typically share their network capacity between multiple users and as a result service speeds can fall during busy periods when larger numbers of people are all surfing at the same time. Often the less you pay for your service the more it’s likely to be shared.

Similarly the busiest periods for home broadband ISPs usually occur outside of working hours (i.e. in the evenings), when almost everybody is home and awake. It should be noted that this is the opposite for business ISPs where network congestion usually peaks during daytime working hours when most people are in the office.

The only way to completely avoid the issue of fluctuating performance is to buy an expensive dedicated 1:1 business connection, which could cost you hundreds of pounds per month. Otherwise those who seek affordability have to accept the natural variations in performance as a price worth paying (one exception to this rule is usually given for newly built networks as they tend to have an initial abundance of capacity).

But as usual you should take statistics like this with a suitably big pinch of salt. Admittedly there’s little denying that surfing during the early hours does deliver the best performance, yet it should however be noted that not all areas and ISP connections will suffer from the same issue. It’s also unclear whether uSwitch filtered peak and off-peak data on the same lines or if they just ran a general average (the latter looks likely). Furthermore it’s possible that more tests will have been conducted during the peak than off-peak periods. Similarly this is a test of real-world connectivity, but that won’t reflect the availability of potentially better and less variable connections.

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

    Interesting and inevitably the change between peak and off-peak will be exacerbated as top speeds continue to increase.

  2. Avatar DTMark says:

    I’d have thought this data is surprising. Are ISPs really over-selling to the extent that users are seeing really significant speed drops like this?

    Here we are with 4G which is almost always 23 to 25 Meg down and over 40 Meg up. Surely, that’s the very essence of ‘contended service’. I don’t expect it to slow down at 9pm, and indeed it does not.

    It’s not very fast, is it. But then neither are any of the speeds in that table.

    1. Avatar Gzero says:

      Yes, Virgin Media definitely are. I get speeds as low as 10mbps at 9pm, and 120mbps at 5am. I could link my speedtests if you’d like. Estimated fix date from VM? November!

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      If you’re within the first three months of service I suspect you could escape any contract.

      But then that presumes that there is an alternative.

      The lack of an alternative is probably the primary reason we put up with such abysmal broadband speeds. Where, by alternative, I mean infrastructural alternative, not just another BT based reseller.

    3. Avatar Gzero says:

      You guessed correctly, I have set my parents up with Plusnet fibre, and it’s fine a lot of the time.
      I’m stuck with no other option in this top floor flat as there is no BT line as far as I know.

  3. Avatar My8th says:

    Nice article. I live in North America and I want to schedule noncritical downloads during the lowest non peak hours. Any article or information I could use to pick the hours?

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