Over the last twenty years of working with Internet and related networks, I have observed many different usage patterns along with some interesting shifts in how people utilize their Internet connections. There are many peaks and valleys during the days and throughout the week, and one day of the year stands above all the rest when it comes to Internet usage. Here are some of my observations and a little bit of insight into what the future holds for Internet usage.
Back in the days of dialup Internet, the most important factor to look at for an Internet Service Provider was the number of modems available for each customer. The ratio of modems per customer was called the oversubscription ratio. On average, a good Internet provider would have five customers for each phone line. This worked because not everyone used Internet all of the time, and it helped to keep the cost of Internet subscriptions down. Typically, there were plenty of open modems until about 5pm. When people got home, they would get online between 7 and 10pm to use the Internet. This is called peak usage time. As the Internet became more popular and people spent more time online, the providers had to install more phone lines so that customers would not get busy signals during peak usage times.
Weather also plays a part in Internet usage. During the winter, people spend more time inside using their computer and Internet connection. On snow days, when kids are often home from school, Internet usage goes up even more. During the spring and summer, people spend less time on their computers and more time doing things outdoors.
Over time, dialup was replaced by broadband connections through cable, dsl, fiber and wireless. Broadband is always connected, and the oversubscription ratio shifted from the number of modems to the amount of bandwidth available for each user. Ten years ago, an oversubscription ratio of 10:1 was acceptable. This meant that for every one megabyte of capacity available, the provider could sell ten megabytes worth of connectivity. Between downloading webpages and emails, the Internet connection would sit empty. The peak usage timing was very similar to dialup, with the most usage happening between 7pm and 11pm. The busiest days of the week were Sunday through Wednesday, with less usage on Thursday through Saturday as people spent more time doing other things during the weekend.
Over the last few years, the growing popularity of online video services like Netflix has forced major changes in how Internet providers build their networks. Video uses the entire Internet connection and stays connected for a long time. Average data usage has skyrocketed and is on pace to double every twelve months. Our target oversubscription ratio is now 4:1 or less. The shift from TV time to Internet video time in many households has also shifted peak usage. Peak hours run from 4pm to midnight, and Friday through Monday nights are now the peak days.
The longest day of the year for Internet providers is Christmas Day. This is the day when the Internet hits the highest traffic point of the year. Christmas Day is the perfect storm of Internet usage – cold weather, kids are home from school, there is nothing to watch on TV and the house is full of new electronic devices and video games that need to download updates from the Internet. The usage peak from Christmas typically isn’t seen again for a few months, but it serves as the measuring point for how well a network handles heavy loads.
All of us at Vistabeam send you wishes for a great Holiday Season!