The Surprising Impact of a Contended Line on Your Internet Speed

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When browsing for new broadband for your business you will likely come across the words ‘contended’ and ‘uncontended’, but what do these mean? Understanding these is important and is something your provider should explain to you. There is nothing worse than having misguided expectations leading to disappointment. 
Contention and contention ratios are very often overlooked by buyers looking for broadband. Yet, it has a significant impact on the service you will actually be getting opposed to what is advertised as maximum speeds. 

In this post we will explain what a Contended line is (which is something the majority of clients will have), how it differs from an uncontended line and the impact it has on your broadband experience. 

What is a Contended Line? 

A contended line is a broadband line shared between many properties. It’s a bit like a highway used by many other people, not just yourself, instead of a private road. 
Naturally, just like on a highway there will be times it is busier and times when it is less so. This is why it is important to understand what a Contended line means and what a contention ratio is. 
A contention ratio is the total number of properties your line is connected to. Basically, the maximum number of cars using the same ‘highway’ at any given time. This means that lines with higher contention ratios are more likely to be clogged up during peak times. 

Line speed on a contended connection can be viewed as the maximum speed you can go on a motorway. During rush hour on a 3 lane motorway you will not be able to travel at maximum speed as there will be too much traffic. The same applies to your contended line, the more premises using the network in your area the more affected your actual speeds will be. 

It’s also worth noting there is a difference between residential and business lines when it comes to contention. You will usually have lower contention ratios when using business lines. Using a business line is a bit like being able to use the M6 toll section while non-paying vehicles get stuck in the main motorway traffic. 

The difference between a Contended Line and an Uncontended line is that the latter is only ever used by you. The entire motorway is purely for your use, always. (wouldn’t that be great?). 

One of the only services that offer an Uncontended Line is a Leased Line. These will be much more expensive as they require putting in new infrastructure directly to your building. 

Why is understanding what Contended Line means Important? 

Understanding what a contended line means is important when choosing your broadband. Just looking at maximum speeds and expecting to have close to that can be misleading. This can cause problems down the line if your business requires high broadband speeds consistently.  

For example you own a PC Gaming Cafe, a Design Company that uploads large media files, you stream a lot of high quality videos or take important conference calls often. In these scenarios you may find yourself not getting sufficient speeds or the desired speeds at certain hours. 

Most should tell you what your guaranteed speed is. This is the speed you should never go below even during peak times, and you should contact your broadband provider if you do. While using a contended line, if it has a high contention ratio then you will more often be running speeds closer to the minimum offered.  This might not be ideal for your business.  

Key Takeaway

To summarise, a Contended Line means you share the network with others. This means during busiest hours your speeds will be a lot lower than your maximum. How much lower depends on the contention ratio.  

Being aware of this, you might want to rethink what service meets your business needs best. A Leased Line, that only your business is using might be the optimal option.  

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