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Contention ratio explained

Contention ratio explained

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Last updated: 03 September 2021

‘Contention ratio’ is one of the factors that affects your overall broadband speed, along with the wiring in your home and the model of router you use..

But despite being one of the factors that affect your broadband speed, many people aren’t aware of what it is, and broadband providers have even stopped publishing contention ratio information.

In this article we’ll be running through what exactly a contention ratio is, and why it’s not really worth worrying about these days.

What is contention ratio?

The contention ratio is simply how many other users are using the same line for their broadband service.

This number is fairly easy to understand too. A contention ratio of 50:1 means that fifty separate households are all using the same line from their broadband provider.

Home broadband contention ratios used to be around 50:1, with business broadband contention ratios around 20:1. But these days people aren’t quite sure what the figures are and aren’t too bothered about it either (as you’ll find out later).

How do contention ratios affect my broadband service?

A high contention ratio can have a serious effect on the speed of your broadband. If the speed of your broadband line is 50Mbps and you live in an area with a contention ratio of 50:1 and you all use the internet at the same time, you may only get a speed of 1Mbps. Whereas if hardly anyone else was online you could get 20Mbps or even 25Mbps.

In areas with high contention ratios, internet speeds tend to be slower in the evenings when everyone gets home from work and jumps online. Everyone is competing for speed on the same resource, so naturally the speed received by each household will be much slower.

It’s much like a traffic jam or bottleneck. If the roads only have a few cars out on them then everything runs smoothly. But the moment everyone is out on the roads at once it can make things move at a frustratingly slow pace.

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What are broadband providers doing to combat contention ratio?

Some broadband providers employ web traffic management techniques to help ease things along at a better pace. This involves limiting the speeds for certain tasks online, whilst allowing other tasks to utilise full speeds.

For example, video streaming services such as Netflix are data-intensive and require faster speeds, so these tasks are usually given as much speed as possible.

Downloading large files and peer-to-peer services are usually the kinds of task that have their speeds limited until after peak time. This not only helps to provide a better user experience for everyone online in the evening but pushes users to do their heavy downloading at a different time of day. Traffic management was more common in the past, however. Now, most providers offer truly unlimited broadband, which means your usage isn't restricted or slowed down at any point.

How do I find out my contention ratio?

You can’t really. In recent times, contention ratios have become less and less important. With broadband speeds getting ridiculously fast and capacity becoming much larger, users aren’t experiencing as much of a dip in service in the evenings anymore.

Broadband providers aren’t publishing contention ratio information, and consumers don’t really need to know the contention ratio in their area as providers can give you a fairly accurate estimate of what kind of speeds to expect on their service anyway.


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Harry Pererra

Author: Harry Pererra

Harry turns on his experience in web design and programming to write about the latest news in the world of tech and broadband. When he isn’t writing for usave he is working towards his Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and prefers dogs to cats.