What is contention ratio and how does it affect your broadband?

For those unacquainted with the industry, contention ratio may sound like a terribly obscure term. In fact, it describes a common aspect of internet service. Essentially, contention ratio refers to the numbers of users that are sharing the same bandwidth.

Logically speaking, the higher this ratio is, that is, the more users share the same data capacity, the slower the service will become for all those connected. As a reference point, the standard ratio for home users is estimated at 50:1, whereas for business users it’s 20:1, yet these figures are not believed to be entirely accurate.

In truth, your broadband speed can be significantly affected by a number of things: anything from faulty wiring, to a malfunctioning router or simply your ISP failing to live up to the promises made when you enlisted its services. And those are just a few of the external factors at play here. There are many other internal factors, such as non-optimized content on your website, that can lead to slow responsiveness.

A good strategy, then, would be to investigate what the contention ratio is in your area. Yet such figures are not commonly disclosed by internet providers. What ISPs usually give information about, however, is download and upload speeds, which are partly calculated by taking into account an estimated contention ratio.

Some providers will practice what is called traffic management, which essentially means prioritizing certain online tasks such as video streaming so you can get a stable connection on your line regardless of your contention ratio. This sort of “loophole” is very convenient, so make sure to keep it in mind when you’re searching for internet services.

High contention ratio tends to affect users evenly throughout the day and week. Most commonly, your internet speed will be significantly decreased in the evenings and on weekends, seeing as many users are likely to connect to the internet during those time, when they are free from work or other engagements.  For instance, if the line you have access to is a 100Mb one, and the contention ratio is 50:1 or higher … you’ll only get speeds of about 2-3 Mb at peak times. 
Good news is there is a better alternative out there. Contention ratio issues only affect ADSL broadband consumers, but if you switch to fibre broadband, such problems will be a thing of the past. Fibre optic broadband, has a far higher capacity than standard ADSL, so more people can share a line once without experiencing a major drop in speed.

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