These are some of the descriptions you will see when you start to look for a broadband connection.

Contended/Shared Service

A shared link or ‘contended’ connection will provide the advertised download and upload speeds only when there are no other users sharing the service.  You probably won’t know that you’re sharing a line or who you’re sharing it with. To optimise the amount of time end-users actually get those speeds a provider calculates the overall speed they need on the main ‘pipeline’ to give each customer the service requested most of the time.  The minimum service that can be expected can be calculated by looking at number of shared users.  This is called the ‘contention ratio’.  For example a contention ration of 20:1 means that at peak time twenty other users could be using the same capability and so each user experiences a 20thof quoted download and upload speeds in a busy period.  In reality, users aren’t often all making heavy demands on the service at the same time.  A shared service can be perfectly acceptable and cost far less than a similar dedicated service. The fact that the service is contended will be identified in the terms and conditions of contract.

Uncontended/Dedicated Service

A dedicated or ‘uncontended’ connection will provide your business with the full quoted download and upload speeds at all times, which you can chose how to configure. The price of uncontended services is usually higher as the costs of provision, by definition, are not shared with other users.  These services will also often come with a detailed service level agreement that specifies quality of service for reliability and maintenance.  You need to consider how important it is to your business to have certainty of the speeds available to you and whether it is worth the additional cost.


Broadband Speed

Speed is measured in Megabits per second (Mbit/s or Mbps – you will see the term shortened in several ways).  There are 8 Megabits in a Megabyte with a Megabyte representing approximately 1 million characters of text.  You will see terms such as ‘superfast’ and ‘ultrafast’ but there is no official fixed definition of the terms.

Download speed

Download speed is the rate at which data (including emails, web pages, video etc.) can be transferred from another network (or the Internet) to your end of a broadband connection.

Upload speed

Upload speed is the rate at which data can be transferred from your business to another network (or the Internet).  Upload speed may be the same or different from the download speed depending on which service you select. Most consumer services have much lower upload speeds – you should consider carefully how much upload capacity your business needs


A symmetric connection will offer you the same upload and download speeds.  An asymmetric service will usually offer you a considerably lower upload speed than download speed and will typically cost less. Think about how your business uses the connection and whether having a fast upload speed is important to you.

Speed checker

There are a number of commercially available speed checkers where you can input your phone number or address to see what the estimated performance of your broadband connection would be, download and upload.  These are normally offered on the websites of service providers. There are other kinds of speed checker where your computer can measure the connection speed itself – search on line for these.