/ Technology

Do peak and off-peak times still matter?

Receiver of a landline

What time are you most likely to pick up your home phone and make calls? We’ve heard from a few of you recently who’ve been caught out by a change in off-peak call times.

In April 2010 BT shifted its off-peak timing. It had been 6pm to 6am – now it’s 7pm to 7am.

So if you had an evenings and weekend calls plan, you’d have to wait an hour later to make inclusive calls. It didn’t take long for other providers like Sky and TalkTalk to jump on the bandwagon and change their own hours.

Money-making scheme?

Now call me cynical but I suspect that while rather a lot of customers would have made calls between 6pm and 7pm, the hour gained in the morning between 6am and 7am is not really a time most of us settle down for a nice chat.

Might this just be a sneaky way to get people to pay more or upgrade to a more expensive anytime calls package?

Anyway, this got us thinking about what peak and off-peak times actually mean these days. Whether it’s your broadband service or your mobile phone tariff they all seem to have a different idea.

Massive variety of off-peak times

Peak times for broadband tend to be in the evening. TalkTalk says typical peak times are between 6pm and 10pm on weekdays, whereas Virgin Media classes peak times as 4pm to 9pm and 10am to 3pm on its cable services. Some providers operate traffic management at these popular times and limit speeds for heavy users to avoid networks being overloaded.

In contrast, mobile phone networks don’t seem to abide by any off-peak on peak rules any more. There’s still the occasional plan that offers free evening and weekend calls (such as Orange’s Canary PAYG) but for the most part you can use inclusive minutes and data whenever you want.

I remember a time when inclusive mobile calls nearly always applied only to customers on the same network or landlines but happily this is no longer the case. What freedom!

So what’s your definition of off-peak? Does it vary according to whether you’re on the landline, mobile or computer – as tariffs suggest – or should there be a universal off-peak time for all?

zag says:
10 March 2011

don’t care to be honest, I haven’t used a land line in about 10 years.

Bill says:
8 July 2013

Didn’t some university in Berlin report that using mobiles, with their EMF emitting problems increases ones risk of brain tumors by up to five-hundred percent.

nerd. says:
10 March 2011

“rather a lot of customers would have made calls between 6pm and 7pm, the hour gained in the morning between 6am and 7am is not really a time most of us settle down for a nice chat.”

Isn’t that the very definition of “Peak” and “Off-Peak” though? I’m sure this is to make more money, but essentially you’re just saying that they’re absolutely right to do this!!

“Peak” was always defined by GPO telephones, later BT, and then all competitors when the market opened up, as 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., because “Peak” was when business users would be on the line.

In fact, right into the mid 1990’s, I’m not sure exactly when as I had gone back to university, so after 1994, there was a two-tier “peak” rate – 09:00 – 13:00 was the most expensive and 13:00 to 18:00 was a little cheaper.

The “evening and weekend” off peak is just a relatively modern phrase to cover the hours when traditionally businesses were not on the line and so the demand was reduced.

If you think a tiny bit about the history of the telephone it is very easy indeed to see how the “peak” and “Cheap Rate” (as it used to be called) hours came about and why: Telephones were originally only available to businesses and the very wealthy (by definition probably businessmen) and all calls had to be connected manually, by operators in exchange buildings. Ergo when the businesses were trading (office hours, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5) the vast majority of calls were made and so the operators had to be employed in maximum numbers. When the businesses were not trading only a tiny number of calls could be made by a tiny number of subscribers and so it was only necessary to have a skeleton staff of operators at the exchange. Majority of calls = Peak Rate = more staff = more wages = higher call costs. Few calls = Cheap rate = fewer staff = less wages = lower cost calls.

Now that businesses trade almost 24/7 and virtually every home has a land line (even if only for broadband) and millions of us have mobiles there is a vast demand which is much more constant so these differences in cost and demand are much less noticeable or predictable. This has lead to the changes.

Interestingly since 1986 when I left my parents home and lived alone I have always been a very heavy user of the telephone (land line) and yet the changing and falling tariffs means that in 1986 I was paying about £120 per quarter for my phone (line rental plus instrument rental (who remembers that now?!) plus call costs) and here I am in 2011 paying about £130 per quarter for line rental plus broadband plus call costs – so in 25 years my ‘phone costs are pretty much constant yet I get far more for the money now than I did a quarter of a century ago.

As for selfish and smug people like Zag, perhaps he or she should consider those people unable to use a mobile perhaps due to disability or infirmity or maybe due to living in a remote area with no signal. I am lucky: I have the choice as I have a mobile and a good signal. I guess Zag also has a choice, but we should not forget that some people don’t, and the next person that hasn’t could be Zag’s nearest and dearest.

Anyway, to conclude by going back to the question: Personally I thin it’s time we abolished the off peak and on peak idea all together since there is no longer a definable peak demand, but instead we should have more options for “light users” and those with no choice of phone provider to ensure that they are not ripped off.

EEB says:
15 March 2011

You wrote “Now call me cynical …” – but I reckon your attitude is quite justified. When British Telecom announced the change in off-peak hours, this was tucked away in *very* small print in a letter to subscribers. As a paid-up cynic would expect, the message they wanted readers to go away with was the good news (sorry, can’t remember now what it was) they were announcing in the main part of the letter. I do remember that I thought it wasn’t news worth a special letter; this aroused my suspicions, so I did read through the small print and therefore spotted the bit about changing the off-peak hours.

Rather than your point about just trying to “get people to pay more”, I thought it was an attempt to trick people into continuing to phone for a chat at 6pm without realising that the call was now treated as peak time.

I did contact the consumer advice page on one of the papers to encourage them to publicise the change and therefore reduce the number of people tricked, but I don’t know whether any publicity came by this route. It would be very interesting to get the hour-by-hour breakdown of calls before and after this change came in.

Darryl says:
16 March 2011

So how long do you think it will be before Peak time is changed to 8pm because people are waiting til 7pm to make thier phone calls in the evening. This is just BTs way of making more money by changing the goalposts. they shouldn’t have been allowed to change the time for customers who were tied into a 12 month contract at least new customers would be going in with it upfront.

How about sending messages to the recipients recorders at your off peak times and getting a reply at the recipients off peak times – Take a little longer but cheaper.

But I’m all in favour of a “Light User” discount – as I only use my Land Line about once a month – and my mobile less than once a year ( bought for car emergencies)

did these suppliers make it clear and in advance that these changes would occur?

or was it kept low profile?

Christopher Pugh says:
19 March 2011

I only have a mobile phone which used to be on the Orange “Choose your own off-peak” tariff. Calls were reduced in price during the hours 11 am to 3 pm.

I have now changed to Tesco Mobile PAYG Lite tariff. Calls, even to 0845 and 0870 numbers, are 8p per minute all day. Texts are 4p each, (10p to shortcode numbers).

Nah… doesn’t affect me at all, with advent of Email, has done very very little barking
on the phone irrespective of time of day….. come to think of it, don’t see the need to
exercise my vocal cords at all!

Steve says:
30 March 2011

It hasn’t affect me or the Mrs as most of our calls are made during the working week in daylight.

The one that was a problem to us was end of Friends and Family as it cost us money, but other than that our outgoing usage is so small it is hardly worth having.

A reduced line tariff for those who only want broadband would probably cause me to drop the land line phone completely and just use the mobiles for those few calls we do make.

I really don’t care – my phone bill is less than £5 a month – and it means that “free” 0800 numbers are actually free. Most of my communications are by e-mail – but nothing beats a nice long phone call. e-mails are too cryptic.

My tariff includes calls to mobiles after 7pm and at weekends. I am not going to waste money calling mobile numbers at other times unless it is urgent.