The marketing of a broadband package will generally involve flinging a lot of figures around and hoping that casual viewers are impressed enough to commit to a package before they really understand what it entails.
While domestic users might not really be too fussed if they end up signing up for a broadband tariff that does not meet their needs, for businesses this can be a real concern.
A modern company should be expected to rely on its broadband connection for a variety of significant purposes, so if it is not up to scratch, it could be a costly burden rather than a valuable asset.
One figure that you may not always consider, perhaps as a result of not understanding its meaning, is contention ratio.
Information on this should be buried somewhere in the small print of most residential broadband bundles, but for business broadband it should be presented alongside expected line speeds and monthly usage allowance as a key feature of a package.
But what is a contention ratio and how does it vary between business broadband and residential broadband connectivity?
The contention ratio is the ratio that determines how many broadband customers are sharing the same allocation of bandwidth made available locally by the internet service provider (ISP).
The smaller the contention ratio, the fewer people will be likely to access this fixed bandwidth at the same time.
In short, this means that there is a theoretical maximum number of simultaneous users who can get online and carry out data-intensive activities. If this is reached, you will generally find that the speeds achieved by all users will be sorely affected, because there simply will not be enough bandwidth to go around.
For those who have a residential broadband package, contention ratios will vary depending on the provider they choose and the amount they are willing to pay each month.
In general, you will find that residential packages have average contention ratios of 50:1. This means that up to 50 people can share the same bandwidth allocation.
The result is that during peak periods in the afternoon and evening, residential broadband speeds can be significantly slower than advertised. For a home user, this means they might not be able to stream from iPlayer particularly smoothly, which is not exactly the end of the world.
If you have a business broadband package, you can reasonably expect the contention ratio to be lower than it would for residential users. Again, there are various ratios on offer from different providers, but looking for a maximum of 20:1 is sensible, because this means that even in peak times you will not find your data speeds compromised.
For small businesses in particular it might seem sensible to invest in a residential broadband package, at least from a financial point of view, because bargain prices and appealing bundles can give it the advertising edge over business deals.
However, a connection which is specifically tailored to enterprise usage will be the better fit in the long run because it will ensure that your broadband does not become a sluggish millstone that ends up hampering the growth of your company.
Business broadband is recommended to companies for a reason and just as domestic users should not choose a business package, businesses ought to avoid residential connectivity.
Contention ratio can help you work out whether a bundle is intended for homes or offices quite quickly, even if it is not specified for either market. Stay alert when selecting packages and you will not be disappointed with your final decision.
This article is supplied by Jamie Garner who works for Daisy Group, an independent provider of business telecoms services.