What is contention?

When it comes to internet speed we all want the fastest, but of course, there are issues that can have a big impact on the speed. One of those is internet contention. It sounds far more complicated than it actually is and so we’ve written this article to help you understand one of the biggest factors in internet speeds.

If you were to look up ‘contention’ in the dictionary, you’d be faced with a description that goes something like this; “to compete in order to win something”. And that is exactly what it is!

What is a Contended Service?

Contention is at the heart of broadband. The term ‘broadband’ means a shared connection, hence the word ‘broad’. This goes for all providers calling themselves ‘broadband providers’.

When you’re sharing a network connection with others, whether it’s an internet connection or a private network connection, you’ll always be competing with them for bandwidth. This means that essentially, your connection is being divided by the number of those using it.

A network connection will only ever be able to take a certain amount of traffic and so, exactly as a motorway, when traffic becomes heavy, speed slows down. When traffic is light, it moves at an optimum speed. The same goes for your connection – the more people using it, the slower it’ll be.

Now, it’s really important to remember that bandwidth is not shared equally. If, for example, there are 900KB/s being shared between two, it’s unlikely that it will ever be split evenly (at 450KB/s). The split would more likely be from 300KB/s to 600KB/s as the ‘battle’ goes back and forth.

What can you do about contention?

Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal that you can do about contention. You can get a lower contention connection (gosh that’s a mouthful!) but it comes at a cost. Generally the lower the contention ratio the more steady the speeds, but the bigger the monthly expense.

The simplest way to avoid slowing internet speeds caused by contention is to use the internet at off-peak times when you are downloading large files or using the internet heavily. Research has shown that the optimum time to use the internet is before 6pm on a weekday and between 12am and 5am, any day.

If you do find you need to use the internet at a peak time, try to use it for web browsing and gaming (but not peer to peer) only as these use up less bandwidth than downloading.

The installation engineers were efficient, competent and polite and we had the internet up and running immediately.

- Julie and Mark Thomas, Herefordshire