What is contention ratio? Why is it important to include in your decision?

A lot of things can influence your internet connection at home or at the office – Wireless network strength, local area network quality, type of router you have etc. One of the most overlooked ones is contention ratio.

Simply put, ‘contention ratio’ refers to how many users are sharing the data capacity on a provider’s line. To put it even simpler, it’s a count of how many households/offices are using the same main broadband line as you.

If your contention ratio is 20:1, for instance, that means twenty households/offices are using one line. Standard contention ratios used to be around 50:1 for home broadband, and 20:1 for business broadband, but these days even this is not completely accurate.

How does contention ratio affect my broadband speed?

When your contention ratio is high – meaning a lot of people are connected to the same line as you – it can potentially drag down your broadband speeds, especially at peak times. “Peak Times” are referred to as times when everyone tends to use the internet more.

If the line you have access to is a 10Mbps one, for example, you can easily get average speeds of around 3Mbps or 8Mbps on a good day. But if your contention ratio is 50:1, with 50 people connected to it, and you’re all using it at once… you’ll only get speeds of about 1Mb.

That means that if you’re in an area with a high contention ratio, you’ll probably get slower speeds in the evening when more people are online or if you are in an area with a lot of businesses between 8 am and 10 am will be particularly slow.

Think of it like a road. A small road can easily handle 20 cars cruising up and down it at various points throughout the day, but if all 20 cars try and pull out onto the same section of the road at once, they won’t be able to go very fast and might cause a jam

This is why some providers practice web traffic management. By prioritizing data for certain online tasks, like video streaming, they ensure that you’ll get a stable connection on your line regardless of your contention ratio. It’s like opening a fast lane for the cars that really, really need to get somewhere.

However – here’s the good news! Your line speed only tends to be seriously affected by a poor contention ratio if you’re subscribed to standard ADSL broadband. Fiber optic broadband, on the other hand, has a far higher capacity – so more people can share a line at once without getting a major dip in speeds.

Can I find out the contention ratio in my area?

Unfortunately this isn’t something providers often advertise or have a proper knowledge of. You will find though that they will quote a number like 1:25 or 1:50. Bear in mind that a 1:50 could mean that on a 100Mbps link, you can still end up with only 2Mbps in peak hours.

Are there any true 1:1 links?

In our experience providers sometimes provide a proper 1:1 contention ratio at a premium. They are quite costly, but it makes all the difference, especially for businesses that need the extra throughput.

The providers peer with all the different peers from their data center like Google (Youtube, GMail, etc) and Microsoft to name just 2 of the biggest bandwidth consumers. An important question to ask a 1:1 provider could be which of these they are directly peered with.

Contact us if you need information on the links available and the contention experienced on all the different products.