How to keep working when your broadband fails

Being able to keep working when your broadband fails can make an offline period surprisingly productive.

Thursday, 12 October, 2023

Such is our dependence on the internet nowadays that even a temporary broadband outage can feel catastrophic.

How will we function without email? How can we cope without being able to check for social media updates? What will we do without streaming media platforms or cloud gaming?

Matters are exacerbated during the working week, when people are under pressure not to be seen as slacking off, with diaries full of Zoom calls and online research tasks.

Outages are more common than you might expect, too.

A recent report from Uswitch revealed almost 22 million people across the UK have experienced an outage of at least three hours in the last year.

Recurring causes included router problems, planned maintenance or a sudden failure of ISP infrastructure.

Yet there are plenty of activities which don’t rely on a steady stream of data from your broadband router.

Whether your ISP has experienced a strange local outage or your router is rebooting and installing firmware, this doesn’t have to stop productivity in its tracks.

These are some of the ways to ride out what will inevitably be a temporary outage, and keep working when your broadband fails…

Look for offline data storage

Even in today’s cloud computing culture, it’s surprising how much data is stored offline, enabling you to keep working when your broadband fails.

Many people still save files to their C: drive by default – it’s the standard location for file downloads and Bluetooth sharing – rather than uploading it to the cloud.

Many Windows-powered PCs run OneDrive – a cloud storage system which automatically generates a local copy of every file you create or modify.

You can access and edit work documents while offline, with OneDrive automatically synchronising changes in the cloud once a connection is restored.

While modern IMAP email accounts are designed to display on any web-enabled device, you should still be able to view archive messages – and their attachments – in offline mode.

Use traditional working methods

Keyboards may be ubiquitous nowadays, but we can all hold a pen, and every home office will have paper somewhere.

Handwritten notes can be typed up later, scanned into a printer and saved as a JPG, or translated into text using an OCR software application like Nanonets or OneNote.

An empty Excel document could be printed out as a paper spreadsheet, with smartphone app calculators completing even complex calculations in seconds.

If your broadband outage is temporary, this may be an opportunity to do some CPD, catch up on reading, brainstorm ideas or deal with paperwork and business-related admin.

It’s the ideal opportunity for phone calls, while video calling platforms generally support people dialling in by phone.

Find internet access elsewhere

If the activities you want to conduct require connectivity, it’s worth considering alternatives to home broadband.

Smartphones tend to have stable 4G or 5G connections – if you can cope with a small screen, additional data costs could be the only handicap to working on your Android or iOS device.

Tethering a computer to a smartphone co-opts the latter’s connectivity onto the former, with WiFi hotspot capabilities on all modern Android and iOS devices.

If you’re willing to work in public, most coffee shops offer customer WiFi.

Libraries generally have PCs and printers available to hire, as well as high-speed internet, while co-working spaces do likewise – though they may require a membership.

(Beware of distributing confidential data across insecure public WiFi networks. It may be advisable to use a VPN to protect sensitive or financial information.)

If you’re late for a video call and don’t have time to reach a specific venue, step outside and scan for public WiFi. Many town centres and transport networks have open WiFi networks.

The truly prepared might already have invested in a mobile broadband dongle in readiness for an ISP outage, keeping desktop or hardwired devices online – though data isn’t cheap.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!