So when planning a large upload (like your first, for example), you have to contend with the high and low tides of Internet usage, not just the speeds your ISP claims to offer in its brochures. Experts disagree on the exact numbers, but “peak time” is generally defined as the period between 5:00 p.m. and midnight–basically, after most everyone comes home from work and before they go to sleep. During this time, global bandwidth begins to crawl, eaten up mostly by entertainment services and peer-to-peer file sharing.
In May, networking company Sandvine reported that Netflix has become the largest source of Internet traffic in North America, comprising 29.7 percent of downstream traffic during peak hours. Overall, streaming audio and video take up nearly half of all peak traffic, while P2P services like BitTorrent make up less than half that, at almost 19 percent.
In a nutshell, those numbers tell you that peak hours are the wrong time to initiate a large upload to the cloud. You’re probably sharing bandwidth with your neighbors, and you probably see a slight or a significant slowdown in your Internet connection after 5:00 p.m. Even if you have a dedicated line, your own downstream bandwidth will shrink during a large upload, making your own streaming video and file-sharing connections grind to a halt.
The average person uses a standard DSL connection to get online. Even the higher-end plans limit you to around 768 kbps, which means that large uploads can take incredibly long–depending on the size of your backup, even weeks–to complete. When you add in the peak downstream traffic of your neighbors, your ISP is able to provide you even less. That means that, during prime time, big uploads could even take months.
The best time to schedule uploads, then, is during Internet downtime: either very early in the morning (not too many people are watching Netflix at 3:00 a.m.) or in the middle of the day. Fewer users are streaming video (although savvy file-sharers may schedule their transfers for daytime, too).
Of course, simple transfers between the cloud and your computer shouldn’t be overwhelmingly affected by peak traffic; it’s only the large uploads–anything bigger than, say, a gigabyte or two–that will really slow you down. But it’s better to schedule backups for the middle of the night anyhow. Why worry that your upload might interrupt a streaming episode of Glee? Save yourself the anxiety and go off-peak.