Contention Ratio matters! While internet service providers advertise awesome speeds, you might be surprised to discover that you aren’t actually guaranteed to get that speed. It’s why they always include the “maximum” qualifier. It means that is the fastest your internet connection can go, not that it will always go at that speed. And that’s thanks to a little thing called contention ratio.
What is Contention Ratio?
Contention ratio refers to the maximum demand divided by the actual bandwidth available on a connection. The higher the ratio, the larger the number of people on the same “pipe”, as it were.
So, basically, if an ISP has a bandwidth of 40Mbps and they’ve got 1,000 people with connections of 2Mbps, the ratio is 50:1, which is average for home connections.
However, the more people that are trying to get online at the same time, the slower the speed will be. So, if you have 4 users online, they’ll each get 25% of the internet speed, or 10Mbps. If all 1,000 are online at the same time, your internet will basically slow down to a crawl.
Why Does Contention Ratios Matter?
The thing that many people don’t realize is that most ISPs do not have their own infrastructure to provide you with a full connection from start to finish. They own part of the infrastructure, but then there’s a portion that they rent – the part that connects to the actual internet. And that rent is expensive.
Depending on how far the connection has to travel, some providers have to pay as much as $100 / Mbps. So, if they were to rent enough bandwidth for 1,000 connections at 2Mbps each, they’d be paying $200,000 per month.
Generally, they don’t actually need to have quite that much bandwidth because not everyone is going to be downloading huge files at the exact same moment. In other words, few people are going to be using their full bandwidth at the same time, so providers rent much less than they might need in theory.
The problem comes down to money. If you want a better contention ratio and, therefore better speeds and internet stability, you have to get a more expensive connection. Otherwise, providers simply won’t be willing to pay the high costs of renting more bandwidth to guarantee better speeds.
How to Get a Better Contention Ratio for Your Business
The good news is that businesses can get better contention ratios. In fact, only business connections are actually guaranteed better ratios and they can be 20:1 or even better. This means that there’s less of a chance of peak times hurting your connection speed.
Keep in mind that finding a provider that offers better contention ratios might be a little more difficult than you think. They generally prefer not to advertise these ratios because it doesn’t sound as sexy as just saying you’re guaranteed speeds of up to 100Mbps, for example.
They’d have to say that yes, you are guaranteed speeds of up to 100Mbps, but we have a 1,000Mbps pipe with 1,000 connections of 100Mbps each, or a contention ratio of 100:1. To anyone who understands contention ratios, they’ll realize that during peak hours, they’re internet will be running at the “lightning” speed of 1Mbps. And there’s nothing they can do about it since 1Mbps is still “up to 100Mbps”.
So, you have to check and ask point blank what their contention ratio is and what ratio they guarantee. In fact, make sure to get it in writing to avoid any unpleasant surprises later on. That way, you can be sure your internet won’t ever become the top contender in a snail race.
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