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What is broadband contention ratio?

By Claire Nottage | Tuesday, October 13th 2020

Contention ratio is one of those terms you may have heard used in relation to broadband services, but you may not know exactly what it means, and whether it is a problem.

Along with your download speed and the distance you live from your street cabinet, contention ratio is one of the things that can have an effect on your broadband connection. So what is it and should you worry about it?

What is contention ratio?

It may sound like a complex technological term, but contention ratio is simply how many other people are also sharing the same bandwidth as you at any one time. The more users connected at any one time, the slower the connection will be.

Unfortunately there is no way to find out exactly what the contention ratio is on your home connection as this is not information that is advertised by the providers.

What is a good contention ratio?

Home broadband customers can expect an average ratio of 50:1 on their home connection, with businesses averaging 20:1 although this is only an estimate. This means that 50 people are likely to be using the same bandwidth as you at any one time. During peak hours – in the evenings and at weekends – this ratio may increase, causing your connection speed to drop as more people go online at the same time.

Does contention ratio affect fibre broadband?

Contention ratio is not really an issue for fibre because a fibre connection is much faster than a standard ADSL service and is capable of supporting far more users at one time, to the point where any limitations on speed caused by a high contention ratio are minimal.

In addition, broadband providers often use traffic management in order to keep everyone’s connection going. This entails prioritising certain activities over others. For example, streaming a TV show on Netflix will be given priority over downloading a large file. If your broadband slows while you are trying to watch TV, it can cause it to pause and buffer, creating a miserable experience. Limits on downloading files are normally lifted after peak time when fewer people are online.

Can I improve my contention ratio?

You cannot improve or change your contention ratio unless you do something drastic like pay for a non-contended leased line. This is incredibly expensive and generally only used by large businesses that require reliable, very high-speed connections.

If you feel that your broadband speed is too slow, it is more likely to be affected by a range of other things, some of which can be changed easily, some not so much.

The distance you live from the roadside cabinet

The final stretch of all broadband connections from the local street cabinet to your home is carried over copper telephone wires which slow the connection down. If you live a very long way from the street cabinet, the long stretch of copper will slow down your service – even if you choose fibre. A Virgin Media connection or moving house is the only solution in this case.

The location of your router in your home

This is often an easy fix. Your router should ideally be placed at a reasonably high level, off the floor, with no furniture blocking it, and located as centrally in your home as possible, or at least in the area where you spend most of your time. Things like fish tanks, fairy lights and baby monitors should all be kept away from your router as they can interfere with the signal.

The number of devices you have connected

It’s not just about connecting a single PC to your router any more. Most homes have mobile phones, tablets, laptops, games consoles and even fridges and watches that all need to be connected to the internet. The more devices you have, the faster a speed you will need in order to be able to support them all.

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A faster broadband package will improve your connection speed

If you find your broadband connection is struggling, and you have got your router in an optimal position and you don’t live miles away from the street cabinet, then the simple answer is to get a broadband package with a faster speed. To check what is available in your area and find the best deal, visit our fibre broadband comparison page.

Frequently asked questions

Will a bad contention ratio affect my ADSL broadband?

Contention ratio can affect ADSL more than fibre, but as so many people have fibre now, even an ADSL service is unlikely to be badly affected.

Which providers offer a good contention ratio?

All the main providers, apart from Virgin Media, run on the same network and the contention ratio is largely the same, varying slightly at peak times. The only way to get a very good ratio is to opt for an uncontended line, which is incredibly expensive and invariably not available to domestic properties.

Does Virgin Media offer a good contention ratio?

Virgin’s network is capable of offering much faster speeds than the Openreach network, but its contention ratio is largely the same.

Can I get a good contention ratio with Hyperoptic?

Hyperoptic is a specialist provider that offers high-speed, symmetrical broadband directly to apartment blocks and offices, but its contention ratio still averages 50:1, much the same as Virgin Media or Openreach.

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