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Learn exactly what contention is and what it means for you and your business.

The dictionary definition of contention is “a heated disagreement”.  And while the internet may well cause heated disagreements in terms of whose turn it is on the iPad or which movie you’re going to stream, in technical terms contention is something a bit different.

We first need to understand a bit about broadband. Normal domestic or broadband connections use asynchronous digital subscriber line (ADSL) technology where the incoming bandwidth is much greater than the outgoing bandwidth. What’s less widely understood is that the connection to the service provider is shared with your neighbours, so at peak times you’re all competing for the same bandwidth. This is why you’ll sometimes notice your internet connection slow down.

How does contention affect you?

So what does contention mean in terms of your everyday web use? Think of web traffic as cars on a road. While it can easily cope with 50 cars evenly spaced throughout the day, if they were all to try and drive along it at once, it would likely create a traffic jam.

Some providers practice what’s known as web traffic management. This means that they apply different priorities to different traffic so, for example, video streaming traffic will get priority over viewing websites. Think of this as adding a bus lane so that some types of traffic can run smoothly while others are forced to compete for a shared area.

What does contention mean for business?

What is contention-cloudYou might think that all of this only really affects domestic use, for when you’re streaming movies or catching up on iPlayer. But contention has implications for businesses too. The commercial world is increasingly reliant on the cloud. No longer is this used just to store and share files or make backups, we now make use of as-a-service applications to run key business functions, and rely on IP-based telephone or video conferencing systems to keep in touch.

This is where contention becomes an issue for businesses too. If lots of other companies in your area are all trying to use online services at the same time, then they’ll be competing for bandwidth and you’ll start to notice a drop off in performance. This can ultimately affect your ability to get work done and could even hit your profitability.

What’s the answer?

Wouldn’t it be good if you could have an internet connection all to yourself? Your own, private bus lane to the web. Well, you can. The answer lies in moving away from broadband to an Ethernet connection, sometimes referred to as a leased line connection to the internet.

With a leased line not only do you get zero contention, the entire bandwidth is solely available for your business, you also get synchronous speeds, so there’s just as much bandwidth available for uploading as downloading.

This means that as well as consistent performance because it’s a more secure connection, there’s less chance of data being intercepted. You can also apply your own traffic management if you wish so that the applications which are most important to your business get the highest priority.

You’re now asking yourself, how can I get this? And is it expensive? Well, the good news is that Ethernet is delivered in much the same way as broadband, using optic fibre connections either via a street cabinet or direct to your premises. It’s also available in areas where there is no fibre thanks to Ethernet first mile (EFM) which uses twisted pair connections to deliver the service.

This does come at a higher cost than broadband. However, you have to offset the extra expense against the advantages it can offer your business. Having a fast, uncontended internet connection can help improve your operations and give you a significant advantage over competitors.

So perhaps the question you need to be asking is whether you can afford to not upgrade.