What are internet contention ratios?

If you have recently bought yourself a fancy new broadband plan promising high speeds, you might be wondering why exactly you can never seem to get the plan to live up to its speed potential. Unlike a bear, you can’t exactly poke your internet with a stick in order for it to wake up. This is why understanding ‘contention ratios’ is important.

If you’ve been put on an NBN connection and have chosen a particular speed tier, what may be news to you is that you aren’t guaranteed that speed. Say, for example, you bought a 100/40 plan, while a provider may hype up the potential for ‘ultra-fast’ speeds, what you may actually get is something considerably slower. This may come down to how many people are subscribed to your particular line, and this determines the contention ratio.

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What is a contention ratio?

The contention ratio of a particular broadband connection is the maximum demand versus the actual bandwidth. A higher ratio means that a higher number of users are trying to use the maximum possible bandwidth at any one time. What this means is that, in basic terms, if a provider has a 40Mbps pipe and there are 1000 users on a 2Mbps connection (a ratio of 2000:40), the ratio is 50:1. This is about average for a residential connection; however, this can vary in peak times when many more users are trying to access the internet.

  • A good contention ratio is not the be all and end all when it comes to speed, but it is noteworthy if a provider promises a contention ratio better than 50:1.

However, contention ratios should not be always taken at face value. For example, the same 50:1 ratio can be gleaned from 50 users on a 2Mbps connection sharing a 2Mbps pipe (a ratio of 100:2). When there are only two users on the 40Mbps pipe, each one would get 50% of the speed, which is 20Mbps, while the other pipe would yield only 1Mbps.

  • Bandwidth capacities of particular fibre or copper connections in your area may have a greater impact on internet speed.

Contention ratios also effectively only work in plans with unlimited data; data-capped plans in which limits have been exceeded can significantly skew results.

How can I get a good contention ratio?

In short, you have to be paying a lot more – in many cases over $200 a month, and these good contention ratios are really only guaranteed for business connections. Business connections frequently get guarantees of contention ratios of 20:1 or better, with less likelihood of peak times hampering speeds.


What residential providers have lower contention ratios?

Common providers are often a bit coy about making their contention ratios – i.e. how many people they subscribe to a particular connection – known. And seeing as contention ratios and speeds are heavily-reliant on things like peak times and even the weather, many more are reluctant to advertise any particular ratio. Three such providers are known to claim, or deliver, low contention ratios – Amaysim, Life Wireless and Aussie Broadband.

Amaysim Low Contention Ratios

Amaysim has been quoted in the media as aiming to build its own low-contention network, constructing 121 ‘points-of-interconnect’ (PoI) to get connected to the NBN. This direct rollout of PoI networks with NBN Co means that Amaysim has greater control over what it provides, and its aim is to provide low contention ratios by boosting ‘connectivity virtual circuit’ (CVC) provisions. CVCs can affect the bandwidth available to end users. This, in combination with NBN Co hopefully lowering wholesale prices of its network, will ideally allow Amaysim to buy more bandwidth and deliver customers higher speeds.

As it stands, Amaysim offers very competitive NBN plans already, across three speed tiers. All come with unlimited data and the maximum speed tier available is 100/40, which costs $90 a month.

Life Wireless Low Contention Ratios

Life Wireless is one of the only residential internet providers out there to explicitly offer the choice of a better contention ratio. Currently Life Wireless uses its own network to service much of south east Melbourne. Its plans are symmetrical, meaning you ideally get identical upload and download speeds. As Life Wireless has its own network, it has a greater control of what it can do, and is not at the mercy of NBN Co like other providers. If you’re in a serviced area, Life Wireless could be worth a look into.

  • Life Wireless promises a ‘low’ contention ratio, with an option for 1:1, which is outstanding and better than many business-grade connections

Life Wireless isn’t the cheapest provider out there, but the sounds of a new, potentially better network and low contention ratios is exciting.

Aussie Broadband Low Contention Ratios

Aussie Broadband is another provider building its own backhaul networks to all 121 PoI NBN hubs. Currently, Aussie is on 14 PoIs scattered around Victoria, SA and NT, with the rest of the serviced areas being on the Optus network. The current agreement with Optus only allows Aussie to control bandwidth into the Optus network, and not individual PoIs. What this means is that Aussie, for the most part, is at the mercy of both NBN Co as well as Optus. With its own PoI infrastructure, Aussie Broadband will ideally be able to control its own bandwidth and potentially lower contention ratios for customers Australia-wide.

Aussie Broadband is not the cheapest provider out there, with 50GB starting at around $40 a month on a Fixed Line NBN connection, but its dedication towards building its own infrastructure is noble. It will be interesting to see how Aussie Broadband stacks up in years to come.

What does a low contention ratio mean for me?

A low contention ratio isn’t the most important thing when looking for your next internet plan. However, it is a good indicator of service speeds if a provider advertises a contention ratio better than 50:1 – rarely do providers do this. There are a few providers dedicating towards building their own networks in the aim of having full control over the bandwidth they provide to customers, and hence potentially lowering contention ratios. While these providers aren’t the cheapest of the cheap, they are constantly developing and you may find the – possibly – better speeds worth it. However, most of the time, providers still do not advertise contention ratios as they are quite vague numbers to begin with. In any case, a bad contention ratio may not exactly be a deal breaker, and it’s still worth comparing a range of different providers.

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