Why Is My Internet So Slow At Night?

When using the internet, you expect instant gratification. Especially in the advent of super-fast connections and ubiquitous wi-fi coverage, anything less than internet served up at a breakneck pace is hard to stomach.

Slow Internet at Night - Featured Image

Internet service providers (ISPs) know these facts as well as anyone else. So, why does the internet tend to run slower at night than during the day? In this article, we’ll explain how the internet works in the way that it does and why that means the internet is often a bit sluggish when you’d want to use it the most.

Internet During The Day

During the day, you and your loved ones are probably at work. At work, people’s use of the internet is very different compared to the way they might use it at home. Work-related internet use is predominantly stuff like email and informational resources.

You might also be sending PowerPoint files to coworkers or trading sections of software code. The main thing about internet use during this period is that everyone is only using a little bit of bandwidth with each request they make.

Text files, emails, websites, and PowerPoint files are small. Most text files struggle to make it to one megabyte in size. This means that when these files are sent through the internet, they don’t take up many resources.

That’s important, because bandwidth is limited, much like all other resources. The main difference is that you are usually thinking about bandwidth regarding your maximum speed that your connection can get from your ISP.

The principle is similar. Much like the cap your ISP enforces on the maximum speed your internet connection can experience, they also have a hard cap on the amount of data that their network can pass at any given moment.

In other words, there’s a finite number of bits that can be traversing through their segment of internet infrastructure. After a certain volume of data, even ISPs’ fiber optic cables are too saturated to accommodate any more.

When Everyone Wants To Watch Netflix

When everyone is sending emails while away at work, the internet infrastructure isn’t stressed. An email is like a drop of water in the ocean. Even while emails are being sent by the billions, your ISP will never struggle to accommodate the throughput.

But what if there were suddenly a few trillion emails that were being sent all at once? Then, your ISP might have a problem. Your ISP knows that it has a firm theoretical maximum throughput of data, and if that limit is reached, everything else has to get in line.

Hence, data starts to get queued. It wouldn’t be very efficient if small pieces of data like emails were stuck in line behind larger data like videos, however. Videos take up a lot of bandwidth, and users expect that videos may not be able to load instantaneously.

So, ISPs try to route traffic intelligently such that everyone’s traffic is more or less delivered at the time when they expect. The problem is that doing so requires making a few limits in the name of equality.

If you were to try to watch an HD video in the middle of the day, you’d have no problem and your data would be delivered instantaneously. But at night, you’re only one viewer of millions. Everyone wants to watch HD videos or consume online entertainment.

There is just not enough bandwidth to go around in these conditions. You’d much rather have to wait for your video to buffer a little bit than not to be able to watch it at all. Your ISP knows this, and so they route your traffic somewhat equitably even if you weren’t the first person who requested data.

The compromise that your ISP reaches on your behalf is to deliver data to you a bit more slowly than you would otherwise have it. This means that you’ll have to wait for your HD videos to load, but you’ll be able to still watch them.

Wi-fi Issues

Internet-level concerns aside, if you live in a crowded neighborhood and use a wi-fi network, you’re probably also getting throttled by another factor at night: interference.

Wi-fi routers communicate data using radio frequencies. There are a finite number of different frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum, and only a small sliver of those are radio frequencies which are suitable for sending wi-fi data.

In a crowded neighborhood, there are a lot of wi-fi signals sending data on closely adjacent frequencies. Some may even be trying to use the same frequencies. When large volumes of data are sent via the same frequencies in the same areas, interference occurs.

Interference causes the data-bearing radio waves to cancel each other out. The internet has many protocols to compensate for the data loss that results, but it can’t replace information that the recipient never had in the first place. So, a new request is sent, and the data is transferred again.

Light interference leads to slowdowns from the perspective of people trying to use the internet, though it may also manifest as cutting out of the internet altogether if the interference is sufficiently bad. During the day, there typically isn’t enough data flying through the air on radio waves to lead to this kind of disruption.

Between wi-fi interference and ISP-level issues, it’s a miracle of modern engineering that the internet isn’t even slower at night.

Cutting edge traffic-routing solutions and wi-fi router technology are being developed to address the issue of slower wi-fi at night, but there’s still a long way to go.

Switching ISPs or buying a new wi-fi router might be effective ways of increasing the speed of your internet at night, but it all depends on where you live and how dense of an area it is.

If you’re already using the latest hardware and you’re already signed up with a good ISP, you may need to resign yourself to having the internet be a little bit slower during peak hours.

Omar Youssef

Omar attended Clemson University in South Carolina where studied computer information systems and fell in love with the field. He also likes playing video games, reading fantasy and self-improvement books, and learning from people who are smarter than him.