Comment : Why is there such a lack of transparency when it comes to line contention?

Internet traffic is increasing at an incredible rate. Seeking accommodation for our 'virtual world' and the need to access this quickly is now of crucial importance, telecommunications is quite literally shaping the way we live and do business.

It's important to remember, the internet was not created to supply our current demand. Its original infrastructure was simply not designed to do what we are asking of it, but instead to deliver our data at low, burstable speeds.

Now that emerging technologies allow us to do business irrespective of time and distance barriers, connectivity is becoming core to industry.

In our quest for faster more reliable connections, are we overlooking an aspect of broadband with a profound influence on our network performance?

With business now so reliant on high quality broadband why is there such lack of transparency when it comes to line contention?

There are a few factors which could affect the speeds of DSL technology, these range from the distance the data has to travel from the local exchange to the quality of the copper in the ground. Some factors are easier to evaluate than others.

Line contention is one of those factors that doesn't seem as dominant as it should be when choosing business broadband, but then it doesn't seem so readily advertised to the consumer.

Contention essentially implies you are sharing bandwidth with another consumer, the contention ratio being the maximum number of consumers you could share that bandwidth with.

With current demands for applications such as hosted VoIP and with the transferring of other mission critical data, a 1:1 contention ratio is essential.

As if no readily available information on the contention ratio of a product doesn't make things hard enough, you may be surprised to know that sometimes 1:1 does not guarantee zero contention at every stage of delivery.

Contention can occur in any one of the three stages of delivery; the exchange, on the backhaul from the exchange to the ISP's network and from there on to the internet.

If an ISP claims to have an uncontended network and that they 'handle the contention' on their network, they are only guaranteeing a 1:1 contention ratio at stage 1 of delivery.

As a result, there’s a good chance there is contention in backhaul and so the promise of 1:1 contention becomes meaningless.

As we push the boundaries of broadband forward, DSL short comings are becoming increasingly apparent. Reducing the potential points of failure with fibre leased lines for true dedicated services is highly sought after by the businesses that can justify the cost of implementation.

With DSL leased line alternatives available on the market, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate the solutions which do actually carry a true 1:1 contention ratio and those that appear to do so. So how do we know?

It’s unfortunate that not every ISP is as transparent about how they deliver their services as they should be. There are a few tell tale signs which should ring alarm bells. Most fundamentally, it is important to consider the technology being used at the local exchange.

If ADSL or SDSL technology is running over IPStream, then this service will operate at a 10:1 contention on the fibre backhaul to the ISP’s network.

For LLU based solutions, the ISP has complete control of the line at every stage of delivery; check your contract to ensure this bandwidth is available to you 24/7.

Other give away signs to look out for are any download limitations and ‘up to’ speeds, since there should be no such things as a ‘fair usage policy’ on leased, dedicated connectivity. Contention ratios very rarely feature on ISP web pages or in sales pitches so enquire.

To my surprise in many cases I was categorically informed by a number of ISP’s that anything less than a 20:1 is not really needed for business applications and that “no one notices the difference”. With such blind consultancy in the industry it's clearly time to start addressing this issue.

Before signing a contract ask for the terms and conditions and read these thoroughly. If your contention ratio is not contractually guaranteed, then look elsewhere, because it should be. Check the small print and ensure that you are comparing solutions on a like to like basis.

Stay clear of cheap deals and ‘freebies’, you really do pay for what you get. The false economy of a cheap business broadband package becomes apparent when your internet goes down and it is of no concern to the ISP, could the business afford for this to happen? It comes down to price vs. performance and leased lines cost, buyers beware.