Broadband slows by over a third in the evenings

Adam Oxford

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Utilities comparison service uSwitch has published figures today that say average internet connection speeds in the UK drop by 35% during peak times. The busiest times of the day are between 7 and 9pm, when speeds fall from an average of 9.6Mbps to 6.2Mbps.

uSwitch singled out Evesham in Worcestershire for particularly bad performance. Connection speeds dropped from 15.5Mbps to 4.9Mbps after 7pm, a fall of 69%.

The current internet infrastructure is struggling to cope with a massive increase in internet activity as people download more and watch more online TV.

It's not exactly news that internet speeds fall when more users log on, as anyone who's tried to play Battlefield 3 can attest to. In some areas of Brighton it's anecdotally noticeable (and confirmed by engineers) that connections slow down during university term times, when the population rises. But it is useful to quantify it like this. The headlines, however, only tell half of the story. As the pressure is on ISPs in the UK to catch up with the rest of the world in basic download speeds, there are additional problems for gamers.

In order to hit those headline figures of 20, 50 or 100Mbps, other issues like packet loss and ping can get sacrificed in order to achieve raw throughput. From experience, my Virgin Media connection at home has been regularly hitting decent download speeds in the evening, but with triple figure latency at the same times – so web browsing is fast, but trying to game or watch a YouTube video over the last three weeks has been impossible.

I should add that the problem seems to have been fixed for the time being, by switching me to a different route through the core network, and that this isn't meant to single Virgin out – many ISPs have the same set up. What's disturbing is that just when we're starting to really need them, most of the dedicated 'gamer' ISP packages – which use Quality of Service to prioritise real time traffic – seem to have been phased out.

One option might be to invest in a business account. These are often similarly priced to residential broadband, but guarantee prioritised traffic over other customers.

What's your broadband been like lately? It's an area that we need to cover more, but can't reliably benchmark without help. I feel another Google form coming on...

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