Why Does My Cable or DSL Internet Slow Down at Night?

Sep 5, 2023 | Home Technology

Shared bandwidth from DSL or cable internet is like the sloth DMV clerk from "Zootopia."

You get home from a long day and want to surf, game, or watch your most recent favorite binge-worthy show online. So you boot up, hit Play or Go, and...and...and...eventually get online. But that’s just the start of your frustration. In the middle of your show or game, it pauses...and hiccups...and then resumes, eventually. Strangely, this happens less during the day and more at night. But it’s a common issue. Why is that? More importantly, how can you fix it?

You can blame both your internet connection and your neighbors. But let’s lay off your neighbors for a minute because changing your internet connection can eliminate both issues without disturbing the nice folks next door.

If you have cable or DSL internet connection through an old school internet service provider (ISP), you're very familiar with this nightly slowdown and network congestion. It happens a lot. Yes, it's because your neighbors are home and online, but it's not entirely their fault

Understanding Cable Internet and DSL Slowdowns

Cable internet and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) are two of the most common types of broadband connections in many households. They rely on existing infrastructure, using coaxial cables for cable internet and telephone lines for DSL, to deliver internet service. While both have enabled millions to access the online world, they share limitations that can result in slowdowns when multiple users are active, especially at peak times. When these technologies were introduced, they were considered cutting-edge, the fastest connection around at the time. Today, that’s no longer true, not by a long shot.

Cable Internet Woes: Shared Bandwidth

Cable internet, often provided by the same companies that offer cable television, operates on a shared bandwidth model. This means that multiple households within a neighborhood share the same network resources. This sharing can lead to bottlenecks during peak hours. When your neighbors are streaming movies, playing online games, or video conferencing, the available bandwidth gets divided among all remaining users. Consequently, this can result in slower speeds and buffering as the network struggles to accommodate everyone's demands. You’re paying for a certain speed but not getting it, nor are your neighbors because everyone is pulling from the same pool of bandwidth. It's not just happening to you. Everyone is suffering connection issues together.

DSL Dilemmas: Distance Matters

DSL relies on telephone lines to transmit data and, ironically, does not perform well long distance. The farther you are from the service provider's central hub, the DSLAM (Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer), the weaker the signal becomes. This distance-dependent degradation can cause slower speeds, especially if you're far from the provider's infrastructure. As more neighbors connect simultaneously, the overall demand on the local network can exacerbate the slowdown, leaving you with subpar internet performance. The resulting slowdown can be worse than sharing cable bandwidth.

Fiber Internet: The Speed Revolution

In recent years, fiber-optic technology has emerged as the gold standard for internet connections, addressing the issues plaguing cable and DSL services. Fiber optics uses light pulses to transmit data at incredible speeds, offering several advantages over their traditional counterparts.

Ever wondered what your internet speed really is? Run a quick speed test and find out.

Dedicated Bandwidth: No Sharing Required

One of the most significant advantages of fiber internet is that it provides dedicated bandwidth to each user. Unlike cable internet, where bandwidth is shared among multiple internet users, fiber connections ensure that your internet speed remains consistent regardless of your neighbors' activities. Each household receives its own dedicated fiber, eliminating the risk of slowdowns during peak hours. Whether streaming 4K content, conducting video calls, or engaging in online gaming, your fiber connection will provide a seamless experience.

Speed and Symmetry: A Winning Combo

Fiber internet is renowned for its exceptional speed capabilities. Fiber blows past cable and DSL connections by a wide margin with download and upload speeds that can reach 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) or more. Moreover, the symmetry of fiber connections, which offers identical upload and download speeds, is particularly helpful for activities like video conferencing, gaming, cloud-based applications, and uploading large files.

Bye-bye Latency

Thanks to symmetrical speeds, clear signal sent through ultra-pure glass, and no risk of electromagnetic interference, fiber internet experiences significantly lower latency, ensuring smooth online interactions in real-time applications, such as online gaming or video conferencing.

What about Wi-Fi?

Chances are, your home network includes a Wi-Fi network for internet access, especially if you stream, game, or work remotely. Not every device has a wired connection through ethernet cables. That would make for a lot of cords running through your home.

Instead, a typical Wi-Fi network works by sending signal from the router or modem out to all devices in the home. Depending on the size and layout of the home, you might need a Wi-Fi extender or mesh network for the signal to reach everywhere.

One important thing to keep in mind regardless of your internet connection is how the Wi-Fi signal works: it shares the bandwidth coming in the home among all connected devices. For example, if you have a 300 Mbps internet plan and have all your devices operating the same time, those 300 Mbps are split among the active devices. For ease math, let’s say there are 10 active devices using equal amounts of bandwidth at the same time. That means each one only gets 30 Mbps.

Problem Solved

In the race for a faster and more reliable internet connection, cable internet and DSL have been outpaced by the revolutionary capabilities of fiber technology. The slowdowns experienced by cable and DSL users during peak usage hours due to shared bandwidth and distance limitations are largely eliminated with fiber-optic connections. With dedicated bandwidth, symmetrical speeds, and minimal interference, fiber internet offers an unparalleled online experience that remains consistently fast and reliable, regardless of how many of your neighbors are online.

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