You may have noticed that broadband speeds can vary at different times of the day and while broadband ISP’s will always try and maintain the highest speeds possible, it is not always achievable. This can be a problem for some people, especially those who live in a busy suburban area who rely on high-speed internet when they get home. In this post, I’ll look into why the speeds vary at different times of the day and take a look into which broadband service providers are the best and worst at managing traffic.
First of all your speed can vary depending on the cables that have been routed to your home, you may find that your maximum speeds are 10mb per second but a few streets away they can get fibre broadband up to 76mb. The way in which broadband is rolled out is via BT Openreach who control when upgrades will be made to specific local exchanges and street boxes.
One common reason for slow-down in speeds is the distance from the local exchange to your house. The longer the cable, the slower the speeds.
Speeds will also vary at different times of day due to the amount of traffic through the cables in your area. You can think of it like commuters on trains or cards on the motorway. There will be certain times of day where there is more traffic travelling through the cable, and therefore there is a possibility the network will slow down due to congestion.
Broadband providers use something called a contention ratio to decide how to route traffic in your area. Often you can find that your speeds have dropped to a crawl and that may be because there are many others in your area trying to download data too. Contention ratios can be as high as 50:1 but some providers will offer lower contention ratios to some users so that they don’t experience these issues. Others providers will also offer traffic priority so that if there is a slowdown, yours will be given the ‘fast-lane’ other your neighbours.
Contention ratios will generally be based on the price you pay, the lower the cost of your broadband the higher the contention ratio, this is down to that fact that many broadband providers will pay more for priority access and therefore if you pay more for your broadband package it is likely that you will receive a better contention ratio. Always check with your broadband provider what the contention ratio is where you are and if possible ask for a lower contention ratio or priority traffic management.
Speeds will most likely be affected on downloads as this is where the majority of traffic is flowing. Upload speeds don’t generally have much fluctuation which is great if you like to stream on Facebook Live or use popular services like Twitch.
Think Broadband have done some tests on broadband download speeds in September 2015. These tests were designed to compare the speeds of peak and off-peak traffic. They tested the major broadband providers such as BT, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk, EE, and Virgin Media. What they found was that Virgin Media performs the worst and on average sees a change of around 20%, it should be noted however that Virgin media generally provides a faster fibre broadband service than most and so whilst the drops can be large, the speeds will most likely still be fast than most during peak periods.
Of the rest EE was one of the worst performers with drops of around 6% meaning that speeds could drop a couple of MB per second during peak times. It also had the slowest speeds in peak times at 1.1 Mb per second.
The best performer was BT Broadband which showed either a small gain during peak times or a drop of no more than 2.5%. This means that BT is more likely to maintain the better speeds through peak times than other broadband providers and it is no wonder that it can do so considering it owns the network.
While many broadband providers apply some kind of traffic management rules, more and more are beginning to remove barriers and start offering no traffic management of any kind. Recombu has a list of providers that offer no traffic management, and it is worth checking here to see what you can get with different providers. Some broadband providers may offer no traffic management as standard whereas there may be others like Virgin Media who offer certain customers the benefit of no traffic management, particularly those that purchase the Vivid 200 Gamer package.