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How distance, contention and connection type affect the speed of business Internet

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Jay Lehnert
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When it comes to buying high-speed business Internet service, the familiar saying “you get what you pay for” doesn’t necessarily apply.

Just because your organisation is paying for a super-fast business Internet connection, it doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed Internet access at that connection speed. In this article, we explain why this is the case and discuss a few common factors that affect how fast your upload and download capacity is.

Internet speed is measured based on the rate at which data bits are being transferred from your computer to the Internet (and vice versa) per second. Today, the majority of business internet suppliers are offering services well in excess of 10Mbps. For example, GCOMM offers broadband connection plans that are infinitely scalable, from 10Mbps to 1Gbps, as well as customisable to fit the varied needs of businesses.

To understand how various factors affect the speed of your businesses broadband connection, it helps to think of the Internet as a system of roads, with each road having its own capacity and speed limit. Stops signs, traffic lights, the number of lanes and how many vehicles are on the road at any given time all have an impact on the flow of the traffic. Similarly, the data being exchanged from your computer and the Internet travels over many links, with each link having its own capacity and data rate.

Factors that affect Internet speed

Connection type

Some connections run on a best effort basis and their advertised speed may not accurately reflect the actual speed you are able to obtain from the service.  For example, ADSL2+ is advertised as 24Mb/1Mb, however the actual speed you can get from the service drops as the distance from your ISP increases and varies depending on the quality of the copper wire. The type of cable installed in your area will greatly influence your Internet connection speed.  For instance, fibre optic cables offer significantly more bandwidth than traditional copper cables. Since fibre optic cables are made out of glass strands instead of metal, they are not impacted by interference from other wires and radio signals. They also have the capacity to carry more data.  A fibre optic system can carry up to 10 gigabits per second, whereas the copper cable can carry only 50 megabits per second thus providing a much slower internet connection for your business.

Contention ratio

Contention ratio is used to describe the number of users sharing one unit of data. For example, a 20:1 contention ratio means that up to 20 broadband customers could be sharing the same bandwidth at any given time. This means that if you have a 24Mbps service with a 20:1 contention ratio and all other 19 subscribers you are sharing with are heavily utilising their services, each party’s connection speed could drop to as low as 1.2Mb. However, the odds of all users sharing the connection at the same time are highly unlikely. Many business and enterprise grade services run a 1:1 contention ratio which guaranties the full bandwidth over the tail circuit, however it may then be contented on the Internet provider’s network and further contended once it leaves the Internet provider’s network.

It is important to note that different business Internet providers have different contention ratios. For example, GCOMM facilitates CloudLuxe Internet through a centralised Internet gateway using high-speed, core network Ethernet ports, providing most efficient Internet access to all client remote sites. This means that each remote business location can have uncontended bandwidth directly to the centralised Internet gateway, without compromising the performance of any other site’s connection.

External factors

Another point to remember is that even if your business has a service provider that guarantees the speed advertised and is not contended, there is still no guarantee that you will be able to achieve the full speed of your connection on the Internet. This is due to an almost infinite number of variables that exist in the big World Wide Web. Some of these include, latency (the length of time that occurs between each point during information transfer), link connections beyond your connection, data paths, equipment between the source and destination, third party Internet service provider variables, server and service performance and load, and a whole slew of other factors.

Due to all of these factors, there really is no way to guaranty internet speeds and the only way to accurately gauge a connection’s speed is to initiate a transfer over the shortest possible path from A to B and this will normally be from the end of your connection to a server hosted by your ISP.

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About Jay Lehnert

Jay Lehnert
Jay has been working with GCOMM since 2002. He has been responsible for the design and implementation of many new backend systems. With the diverse environment that GCOMM works in, he has developed a broad skill set and accomplished an array of industry recognised certifications with Cisco, Microsoft and VMware. He enjoys camping, hiking and generally anything to do with the outdoors.
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