Why does my Internet connection slow down – understanding contention

Have you ever noticed that your computer network or access to the Internet seems slower than at other times? One of the main causes of this phenomenon in contention.

Contention is defined competing in order to win something. In the computing world, this is then translated to competing for bandwidth with other people. Contention can occur on single computers connecting to the Internet, or on private networks as several computers try to use the same space.

As an Internet Service Provider (ISP), KABtech offers a wide range of solutions that are designed to keep businesses and homes connected. The issue of contention is something that we focus on solving in our systems to ensure that you don’t slow down. Contact us today to find out more about the broadband solutions we offer.

The contention ratio

ISPs have coined the phrase “contention ratio” with regards to demand for bandwidth. Essentially, this ratio is the potential maximum use available on a particular bandwidth.

Both your network and your Internet connection have a specific bandwidth – the rate at which data can be transferred to and from your device. The more computers attempting to use this bandwidth, the slower the rate of transfer. This happens because the available bandwidth is now being divided between more users and leaving each individual with less space.

For example, if one computer starts downloading an upgrade to its software, it can use the full bandwidth available. Then a second computer receives an email with a large file attached to it and needs to download the file. The bandwidth is then split in two and the first computer’s download slows down. This might not be very significant when divided between only two computers, but think about what could happen if more devices were then added to the network.

It’s also important to note that the split in bandwidth isn’t always equal. Each connection will fight for dominance over the available bandwidth, which leads to fluctuations in download speed. You’ll also find that uses that require more bandwidth generally win out. This means that people in your network who are trying to view web pages, for example, will struggle when there is a big download happening on one of the computers.

Each network connection has an optimum number of users that will keep it running quickly and smoothly. Once you exceed this number, you’ll end up with a high contention ratio and a slower rate of transfer. This applies to both your connection to the Internet and a connection to a private network.

Think of your network connection as a motorway

One of the easiest ways to visualise the contention ratio is to think of your network or Internet connection as a motorway. The road is designed to take only a certain number of vehicles at any given time. If the number of cars stays below this, then traffic can flow freely.

As soon as the traffic increases, the speed at which you can travel decreases. Look at the difference between travelling in rush hour and the middle of the night. In rush hour, cars start having to fight for space and this congestion can prevent you from moving anywhere – never mind getting to where you want to go. A journey that should only twenty minutes can end up being over an hour if the traffic is bad.

The same applies for a network. Your rate of transfer is quick and smooth when it’s only you connected. As soon as more people start to arrive at the office, the rate will get slower and slower. If your network isn’t set up to handle a high number of users, you could find that it comes to a complete standstill at certain times during the day.

When it comes to your Internet connection slowing down, try to visualise the changes in traffic on the same motorway over the day. Late at night, it’s smooth sailing to drive down the road. At midday, there will be a bit of traffic but it isn’t likely to slow you down too much. However, at peak traffic times – when most people are going to and from work – the road is packed with cars all trying to go in the same direction at the same time.

This also happens on the Internet. You’ll often find that your connection is faster early in the morning, before most people get into the office. Then, as the work day gets into full swing, the speed of your Internet connection will begin to decrease. This isn’t always a significant decrease, but it is there.

Just as happens with a busy motorway – when you fill the available bandwidth with users, you decrease the speed at which data can transfer. Essentially, your connection is actually forced to slow down because it simply can’t handle the number of users.

What does this mean for your business?

A slow network is very frustrating to use, and it can also result in a loss of income. If employees are struggling to access the information they need in order to work, this could impact turnaround times for projects, quotes and sales. Additionally, this can have an impact on morale if people are constantly battling with connection speeds.

Low bandwidth will also affect sending and receiving emails, calls done over platforms such as Skype and even slow down communication within the office if employees use chat programmes to talk to each other.

Does contention affect you at home?

It most definitely does. More and more people are opting to use streaming services for watching television series and movies or for playing music. When your Internet connection drops below a certain speed, these online media won’t play correctly and will have to take time to buffer before you can continue watching or listening.

If you’re into online gaming, a slow Internet connection can play havoc with your session. You’ll also find that many of the same communication issues that businesses can face will plague you at home. Slow chat programmes, web browsing and delays on emails can all cause irritation for you and your family.

Another consideration is the increase in use of smartphones and tablets in most households. These all have a large number of apps that you can download to use. Additionally, these apps are constantly being updated by their makers, meaning even more downloading and use of bandwidth.

How can you solve contention?

The most important thing to remember is that a low contention ratio is the best way to keep speeds up. Therefore, the answer to combatting contention is to keep the number of users on a network at optimum levels.

This is done quite easily with the correct hardware. At KABtech, we offer Metro Wireless Broadband as our flagship product. It’s an Internet connectivity solution that allows you to get online without DSL or cable modem services. You can choose to connect via a fixed network or a mobile option – depending on your company’s specific needs.

One of the top features of Metro Wireless Broadband is that it has very low contention ratios. It offers you 1:10 on capped packages and 1:15 on uncapped solutions. Ratios like these mean that you aren’t fighting for bandwidth availability with a large number of users. This means that you’ll always have a fast connection and will be able to send and receive important data when you require it.

We also offer business options have an even lower contention rate – 1:3 and 1:8 for capped and uncapped respectively. These do come at a higher price, but are worth it if a fast connection will allow you to grow your business and keep you ahead of your competitors.

Other tips for beating contention

There is very little you can do to completely avoid the slowing down of your network and Internet connection. Choosing an ISP with options such as Metro Wireless Broadband from KABtech will certainly go a long way.

However, there are other ways you can keep the problem to a minimum and avoid it impacting your operations at the office or your life at home. We recommend:

  • Downloading large files at night
  • Doing software upgrades over the weekend
  • Ensuring your network is capable of accommodating the number of devices you need to connect

These will stop your network from slowing down when other devices are trying to connect, which will allow your business to operate at optimum levels during working hours.

Don’t let contention stop you

Be sure to talk to the experts at KABtech about how you can prevent contention from becoming a factor in your business and your daily life. As an Internet Service Provider, we pride ourselves on providing clients with solutions that are designed to keep you connected.