In light of the broadband speed post, I am (again) going to try and explain why "contention ratio" is also a bad metric. Someone suggested it as a "quality" measure for an ISP, which seems sensible at first, but sadly not.
What is a contention ratio?
It is a measure of how much a link is shared (aka "contended"). The idea is you take the total demand on the link, and the link's capacity, and divide one by the other.
For example, if you have a 1Gb/s fibre going to a RAS which serves 100 separate 80Mb/s connections to customers: The demand possible is that all 100 of those customers may want 80Mb/s of traffic, so 8Gb/s total, but you only have a 1Gb/s connection which they are sharing, so 8:1 contention ratio.
The ratio is normally expressed as N:1, and a lower "N" is "good" because it means the link is not shared as much - simple... Basically, a link that is not shared so much is not as likely to slow down because of sharing of a link.
Sadly not so simple...
Contention ratio measured where exactly?
The first issue is you cannot really say the contention ratio "of the ISP" in a meaningful way. For a start, the end user is buying access to the internet, they do not really care if there is some arbitrary point that has been picked to quote contention - they want to know how likely it is that their communications slows down. But let's try an explain a little here using FTTC from AAISP.
For most end users the first contention is that there is likely to be more than one person in their house using the internet. That is contention. Their (share of) the link will slow down if the other people are also using it. However, we are trying to measure the ISP here, so one side of the ratio is normally the expected speed which is the sync speed of the modem the end user has. Sharing beyond that in to the home is not the ISPs problem. So that gives us one side of the ratio - add up the sync speed of all of the people sharing the "link" in question.
The first link is the customer modem linking to the modem in a cabinet - that is not shared at all - the phone line carrying your 80Mb/s (if you are close to cabinet) is not shared. So 1:1 contention, excellent - let's quote that shall we?
The next link is a fibre from the cabinet - that is shared with the hundreds of people on that cabinet - your neighbours. Openreach may publish metrics for that, I am not sure. We (AAISP) don't know what they are. A contention ratio measured there is not AAISP specific - but it is a perfectly valid concern that this could be the point your traffic slows down due to sharing. In practice Openreach operate VLANs and you can buy "lower contention" on a cabinet for more money.
The next link will be the cable link in the exchange. This is where a group of cabinets are linked to a switch and that links to a back-haul carrier in the exchange. We use TT and BTW. The sharing here is all of the people using that same back-haul carrier in that group of cabinets. I don't know if BTW or TT publish contention ratios, I doubt it. Again that is not an AAISP specific contention ratio, and will be different depending on which backhaul we have attached your service. Again, it is a perfectly valid concern that this could be the link that slows down traffic.
There is then an exchange backhaul where one or more cable links go to a metro node and other links before they reach a node that hands over to AAISP. This is, again, down to the back-haul carrier.
We then have links to carriers (BTW and TT). But these are multiple links and multiple sites, you will be sharing with all of the people on the link you happen to use, and that will change dynamically. So even if we worked out exactly what the total capacity of all of our customers is on each link, it changes if you (or they) reconnect. This is something we probably could work out if we tried.
We have links between switches, and we have links to LNSs, again, dynamic.
Then we have links to edge routers, and that will depend on where on the internet you (and other people) are trying to connect as to how much that is shared. These then connect to transit and peering, and again there is a contention.
Then out on the internet via transit, around the world there are shared links.
Ultimately you could say "what is the contention ratio" of a web site, e.g. aa.net.uk. That has a 1Gb/s port - so what is the total bandwidth of every internet connection in the world that may wish to access that site? Well the contention ratio there is millions to one.
Every single one of these shared points could be a cause of congestion, of slow down, so which contention ratio would you publish, and how would you handle that they can change dynamically. Even contention on your FTTC cabinet changes as other people take service in your neighbourhood.
There is no sensible way to come up with one meaningful point to publish as "the ISPs contention ratio". And even if you did, an ISP may have to publish several values for different services and back-haul carriers or even parts of the country. It would not be a simple number with which to compare two ISPs.
10:1 is not the same as 100:10 or 1000:100, really!
Even if you wanted to look at a specific link, and say what contention is that, it is not so simple. If you had 10 people with 10Mb/s links using one 10Mb/s shared link, then that is 10:1. But the chance of slowdown is high as you only get 10Mb/s if none of the other 9 people are using their service at all!
But what if you have 1000 people with 10Mb/s links sharing a 1Gb/s link, that is still 10:1. Now the chance of slow down is low, even if 99 other people are running their connection flat out at 10Mb/s you can still do the same. In practice, the larger the pipes, the more these things average out and you don't see congestion.
But both of these are 10:1 ratio, even though very different risk of slow down due to sharing. The ratio alone is not a good indicator of likely congestion - you need to know the size of the links as well.
Is the link congested?
The issue is actually congestion. Is a link slowing down because of sharing, basically is a link getting full.
The contention ratio does not actually tell you if you will get congestion. It depends on the usage of the shared link - how much do others sharing that link actually try to use - so an ISP that does a lot of "telemetry" type of customers (bus stop signage, etc) may have a massive contention ratio (if you worked out where to measure that) because their customers all send a few bytes a second, but they may see no congestion. An ISP that targets customers doing 24/7 UHD streaming would need more capacity per customer (a lower contention ratio), but even a low contention ratio may leave people buffering because of congestion.
The ratio is only meaningful if you know the usage level / demand as well. So basically, it is not meaningful.
Indeed, as one half of the equation is the expected speed, an ISP only selling 2Mb/s links would have a really good contention ratio because the backhaul links in the networks are all much larger now (to allow for all these 80Mb/s links). That would make such an ISP look good, when all it actually means is they sell slow services. Of course, if you have to advertise a contention ration, it makes sense to have an FTTC service capped at 2Mb/s, and quote that contention ratio as your headline package.
A better metric would be the average throughput per customer on a link. This is not a ratio, but Mb/s, and means the speed of the end links is not a factor any more on the assumption that people will use what they use (on average) regardless of their line speed. You still have the problem of which point in the network you are measuring though, and the problem of it mattering what actual usage/demand is.
What do AAISP do exactly?
At AAISP we aim not to be the bottleneck (i.e. not have the links we control getting full). All links are shared, so it is always possible, but we aim to invest as necessary to allow for changing trends in usage. We also challenge the back-haul carriers if we see congestion in their network (which means monitoring every line all the time). This does happen, and is normally either temporary (waiting for someone to upgrade a link) or a fault which we get fixed.
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