/ Technology

Is bad broadband affecting your ability to work at home?

Working from home

A recent survey has reported that poor internet provision was the biggest hurdle to working remotely. As technology advances so does the ability to apply a more flexible approach to the workforce. So is bad broadband holding us back?

Throughout the Fix Bad Broadband campaign, lots of people have shared their stories about how a poor internet connection affects them. Some simply wishing they could Skype their grandchildren to keep in touch and others needing better broadband to manage their finances online since their local bank branch closed down.

Bad broadband has an impact on our daily lives, and one other aspect of this is how poor connectivity is affecting our work.

Home working

During our broadband roadshows in the summer, I met someone who was a freelance professional photographer. He told me how he’d bought his home a year ago and was led to believe he could access superfast speeds.

It turned out he could only get speeds of less than 2Mbps and his business suffered as a result. He couldn’t upload any pictures on his home connection and had to go and work elsewhere.

The impact on businesses run from home is a real problem. But a survey published last week looked at it from another angle; the ability to work remotely. Workspace provider Regus found that over a quarter (27%) cited ‘inadequate internet provision’ as their biggest hurdle to working remotely.

This is becoming a much more common trend in the workplace with technology enabling you to work from your home. It can do great things for people who may have dependents, caring responsibilities or very long commutes. For this flexible workforce, no longer does their job determine their location.

Improving broadband

A different perspective I came across on this issue, during a Friday night debate amongst friends in the pub, is that broadband connection problems aside a more flexible workforce could blur the lines between a professional and personal life.

If you’re constantly a button away from being in the office then how do you control the work-life balance? While I’m not convinced that the struggles of striking a balance are enough of an excuse to avoid improving broadband connectivity, it’s certainly an interesting debate.

I’m interested to hear from you on this. Do you rely on a good broadband connection for work? Do you think our workforce is being held back by bad broadband?

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Comments
bishbut says:
25 October 2017

The government has always pushed extra speed for a few mobile phones ,broadband etc.instead of making sure first everyone everywhere in the country had a reasonable speed or coverage The wrong policy ?

We do not have mains gas everywhere, nor mains drainage and mobile phone coverage can be iffy. It is a question of cost, and who pays for it – the taxpayer? At the expense of…..social care for example? I accept that there are everyday tasks that we are increasingly using the internet for, and most of us should have sufficient speed available to deal with these – online banking as an example. Where I differ from some is in whether we should fund the universal high speed broadband provided by fibre they call for, which seems more to fulfil entertainment desires than functional ones. As for working from home, in most cases I would expect a choice of home location should be made to achieve this – like avoiding living near an airport if you don’t want the noise.

Last year 95% of premises had access to a broadband speed >10Mbit/s. However the take up was only 54%. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0035/95876/CN-Report-2016.pdf

I believe there are ways for communities to improve their broadband speed other than through fibre. Perhaps these options should be explored in the remote locations that suffer?

In the days before broadband I can remember the frustration of trying to work from home during evening and weekends using a dial-up internet connection.

Remote areas are difficult but it’s high time that everyone living in towns and villages should have access to an adequate broadband and mobile phone service.

I am very disappointed that the companies that deliver video on demand for entertainment purposes are not required to make a major contribution to the cost of roll out of fast broadband. They are profiting from the existing broadband network and slowing down access for everyone who is not using fibre to the premises.

If 95% have access to > 10 Mbits/s but only 54% take it up, what might this say about how important the other 41% find it?

If you have fast broadband available you can choose whether or not to use it, but if you need it and it is not available then you are scuppered. When looking at the coverage of fast broadband it’s obviously important to look at what is available rather than what customers choose to pay for.

In my previous home I was happy with 7-8 Mbps because my needs were modest and fibre broadband would have cost more. More than half of my neighbours opted for fibre broadband. Where I live now, a mile out of the centre of a small village, the copper broadband is hopeless, which is why I was very happy to be offered an FTTP service that gives me more than the 50 Mbps I pay for.

The question often asked is what speed is really necessary (as opposed to desirable) for most people. Is 10Mbit/s OK for most essential tasks? wavechange was happy with, I was, and if so 95% of the population could access it.

One of the reasons that I was happy with my copper broadband was that it was fairly reliable and the speed seemed unaffected by the time of day. I’ve stayed with friends where their speed dropped significantly at peak times.

Five or ten years ago I would have paid for fibre broadband if it had been available because I regularly moved large amounts of data on a regular basis. Fortunately, I could do this at work – a perk of the job, like being able to do unpaid overtime.

There are many uses of fast broadband connections other than watching video on demand and an increasing number of people work in jobs where good broadband is important.

Our housing development was completed in about 2014 and was fully fibred to the premises by BT from the outset in 2012. I noticed the other day that contractors on behalf of Virgin Media were feeding more cables into the ducts, presumably in response to demand and the slow speeds that occasionally occur at certain times. At least it will take the pressure off the BT lines and give the VM subscribers an exclusive service.

The sales drive for TV and other digital services delivered by broadband has put pressure on the service providers to supply a fast and reliable download service without buffering and outages due to capacity shortfalls. This means that they are, at last, having to invest in additional capacity in order to honour their contracts and retain their customers.

That’s very encouraging, John. Maybe the same will happen elsewhere and the taxpayer will have to contribute less towards the cost of providing everyone with decent broadband.

I do hope that fibre to the premises is standard on all new estates – or developments as the marketing men like to call them now.

@j964144156, colum, I occasionally worked from home but did not place any great demands on the internet – generally emails. I don’t know how many companies treat working from home as a regular official and accepted activity by staff. It would be interesting to hear how Which? approaches this. Do they encourage or require certain staff to work from home? What internet access do they need and does speed of less than 10Mbit/s, for example, prevent them from doing their work, or maybe just increase the time taken to complete tasks. Do you have any evidence from in-house?

Although I don’t send as many large files these days I certainly receive them, though FTP has given way to web-based services such as Dropbox and WeTransfer. I recently went to a very interesting talk by a person who can research a historical topic, commit it to memory and deliver a vast amount of information with just his slides to act as prompts. Last time I heard the talk he sent me a large PowerPoint file and this time a recording of his talk and questions. I’m regularly sent numerous large image files by a guy who is great at photography but knows nothing about how to compress images. It just happens and thankfully I have a decent broadband connection.

Luke says:
1 November 2017

I only get 3-5MBPS download and 600KBPS upload 🙁

Why does this country have such bad internet?

The UK has fallen to 35th place in an annual worldwide broadband speed league table………………………. The analysis also found that the UK’s average speed had risen from 16.51Mbps in 2017 to 18.57Mbps this year. The new average speed would mean downloading a 5GB HD film would take nearly 37 minutes.”

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/07/uk-drops-in-worldwide-broadband-speed-rankings/ – Which?

I am always curious to know why downloading a film for entertainment should be used as the standard for broadband. I don’t see it one of life’s essentials. However, a few of us here have suggested in the past that if money is required to improve broadband speeds – which it is – those who make a lot of money by providing speed-hungry subscription services like films should make a substantial contribution.

However, this is an aside :-(. The question I have of Which? – Colum? – is this. An “average” speed is quoted for the whole of the UK. Is this an average for everyone, including those on copper omly, FTTC and FTTP? If so, what would the average be if you excluded people who had access to fibre, but chose not to subscribe to it? The point is, if the latter is the case, our ability to download films could be improved simply by people paying more and moving to fibre.

Averages can be very misleading.

Good points, Malcolm. I certainly disagree with the methodology – or is that just journalistic licence in the interpretation of the statistical report? Streaming time should not be the determinant of a satisfactory broadband service.

Our previous house had Fibre To The Premises [FTTP] but we did not need to make use of its full capacity so only subscribed to the entry-level broadband service, and that was adequate for our purposes. There were frequently two or three computers in use simultaneously but download speed was never an issue. Here, with underground and overhead copper from the fibre-fitted cabinet, the service is also satisfactory.

The point that we and many others have consistently made about the content providers of on-demand capacity-guzzling entertainment services not making any financial or practical contribution to the high-speed fibre network has never seemed to register with Which? and yet it is the most crucial issue if they are going to continuously attack Openreach or other service providers for the lack of coverage.

Businesses have a completely different tariff structure to residential subscribers and presumably pay their way for the capacity they consume . . . except the ‘back bedroom businesses’ which now make up a substantial part of our economy. Are they making a fair contribution towards the telecommunications infrastructure on which they nearly all depend?

It’s also important to remember that society is adapting rapidly to utilise what is perceived as adequate speed broadband.

At the moment it may well be Netflix hogging the bandwidth but current trends suggest this will not the case for long. In the 1950s a telephone in the home was something of a luxury, and it remained that way until well into the ’60s. By the turn of the century, however, almost every house had at least one landline telephone and one can only imagine the lives that have been saved by that device.

I believe broadband is the new telephone service of the third millennium and is experiencing little short of phenomenal growth, the uses of which will quickly become subsumed into a variety of services – healthcare being perhaps the most important but emergency services in general will also reap the benefits.

Just as we regarded the telephone to be a ‘vital’ piece of equipment in the last century, High Speed BB will become, I believe, just as essential to the health and lives of our society.

I agree that we should all have access to high speed broadband [and ultimately to superfast broadband] if we want it, but an economy version of broadband should remain available to those for whom that is sufficient. I know many people who do not use the internet for anything, do not have a home computer of any kind, and are quite happy with a standard land-line. While the proportions might change I think there will always be people who have opted out of using the internet because of its direct and consequential expense, mental incapacity, or physical impairment. I hope society will continue to be inclusive so that such people are not frozen out of independent participation in normal life; it worries me that many organisations, including public bodies, are making it very difficult for people to engage with them unless they use the internet. Who can say that they will be able to stay on-line until the day they die?

Patrick Taylor says:
14 July 2018

” In the 1950s a telephone in the home was something of a luxury, and it remained that way until well into the ’60s. By the turn of the century, however, almost every house had at least one landline telephone and one can only imagine the lives that have been saved by that device.

I believe broadband is the new telephone service of the third millennium and is experiencing little short of phenomenal growth, the uses of which will quickly become subsumed into a variety of services – healthcare being perhaps the most important but emergency services in general will also reap the benefits.

Just as we regarded the telephone to be a ‘vital’ piece of equipment in the last century, High Speed BB will become, I believe, just as essential to the health and lives of our society.” Ian

I think there is perhaps a logic problem. The telephone line provided the same speed of speech when invented as 100 years later so increasing speed was never an issue. It was adequate for the job. It was also fundamentally simple. It was also unlikely to be turned against your interests.

It is better to think of BB as analagous to the road or rail network where speed and capacity are the things we see continually moaned about. Unfortunately keeping pace with unfettered demand always fails unless you address the traffic. Heavy users should be paying by usage and if the ISP companies do not like it then the Govt. could tax per GB and rebate essential services contacts such as Govt Dept and the NHS.

As for the UK falling to 35th in the world despite increasing speed [average!]. For Pete’s sake what a stupid meaningless comparison to use. It reminds me of when Which? said that winter tyres did not brake as well as the Best Summer Tyre. Of course they didn’t but then did neither of the 99% of summer tyres either.

Perhaps eventuallly we may be 50th in the world with an average 100Mbs are we still going to be complaining?

A good summary, Patrick and, in answer to your final line, “yes”. We can never be satisfied. We pay for a mobile phone contract on the basis of data used (well I do), call minutes and so on so I think paying for broadband could be based on a similar model. I presume games and films use up potentially a lot of capacity, to the detriment of those using the internet for more worthwhile pursuits. Until we find a way of giving everyone unlimited speed and capacity there needs to be some means of paying more fairly.

I hope Which will answer my question https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/broadband-connection-working-from-home/#comment-1537046 about what the “average speed” actually means. I don’t see a link to Colum McGuire so perhaps Alex will help see the question is responded too – she’s always there to help. @awhittle

I am more optimistic. Once we are all using fibre broadband and not the obsolescent FTTC, how much will the usability of services be affected by our neighbours downloading films and playing games?

I’ve no problem with charging for use because this could help the roll-out of proper fibre broadband but it would make more sense to levy charges on those companies that profit from use of high speed broadband. How many years have we been complaining that Amazon does not pay enough tax? We just moan and seem to be no nearer to dealing with the problem.

We seem to agree on charging but it will not, of course, be the company that pays; it will be their customers through their subscriptions.

And rightly so, Malcolm, if I may say so.

Thanks Colum. I do think Which? has to be more careful in understanding what reports or surveys it passes on to Members and consumers. Condemning the UK for an average broadband speed that may actually be significantly down to the choices made by subscribers can be extremely misleading and unhelpful,

It would be far more useful to know what average speed would be likely to be achieved if all subscribers with access to fibre chose FTTC or FTTP.

Will Which? point out the deficiency in the Cable results so readers are not lead astray?

DerekP says:
14 July 2018

I guess the DVD benchmark is a nice simple way of setting out a reference quantity of data.

If one were streaming a typical movie, then you’d need to be able to download it within its playing time, e.g. 90 minutes or more.

Also, the use of more modern data compression formats could reduce the size to much less than a conventional DVD.

I agree that such a reference is useful but people all seem to be obsessed with speed for its own sake and perhaps don’t like the idea that a 90 minute film should take so long to stream. Obviously no one wants frequent pauses and buffering, but this irrelevant speed notion drives the capacity debate and one person’s heavy download is someone else’s reduced speed on e-mails or browsing. The best way to get the capacity [and speed] we want is to have the entertainment content providers [and relevant others] make a realistic contribution to its development.

DerekP says:
14 July 2018

I don’t need to work from home. I’m allowed to be in work whenever I want to be there – and it’s only 10 minutes walk away.

That said, I did peer review four conference papers from home today. Their USA based publisher doesn’t mind where I log in from.

One of the few perks of my job was that I could do unlimited and unpaid overtime.

Many of us did that. It’s about attitude to your job and interest in the work you do. If you are not careful, though, you can become accustomed to working longer days (and maybe the odd weekend) and fit the work in accordingly. Not good. It is most important to strike a balance between work and your social and family life.

Me too, so when I took early retirement after 38 years I calculated that I had already worked for the equivalent of well over fifty years.

It was easy to strike a balance and in compensation I often took days off so that I could attend events or roll in at coffee time. I decided tor retire at sixty but I’m sure I did my fair share of work.

In the early days it was hopeless trying to do software updates from home via a dial-in modem, so I used to take in my computer into work and make use of the fast network to do the job. It was one of the reasons I started using laptops, which are easier to carry around.

I’m pleased you found the balance easy. Many people do not and overdoing work can be very damaging to family, friends and relationships.

I hope many people enjoy their work sufficiently that when it matters they are happy to do that bit extra. But it should not become a habit, or the life for which most of us work – leisure, family, children – can suffer. You could, if you chose, work 24h a day and still not get “enough” done. That simply lets down all those outside work who depend upon you.

It helps to avoid unnecessary work, which can save valuable time and avoid stress. Our heads of department were sensible people – some more so than others – but we were under pressure from administrators to spend more time on doing tasks that were supposed to make us more efficient – probably to justify their existence.

DerekP says:
15 July 2018

If you work in something like factory, a mine, a power station or as a train guard or driver, working from home usually won’t be possible.

Thank you, Derek, for reminding us of that. The metro-centric media seem to ignore the fact that around half the working population [or more] do not sit behind a desk all day keeping up to date with their private e-mails. Teachers do work at home but that is extra-mural [and largely unremunerated]. Shop workers, dentists, doctors, nurses, hospital staff, agricultural workers, off-shore technicians, van and truck drivers, refuse collectors, kitchen staff, home helps, tradespeople of several types, and many others do not have the option of doing their job at home. There is a different world of real work out there.