Is UK broadband fit for a work from home world?

As more people work remotely post-lockdown, can the country's web infrastructure cope?

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Monday, 21 September, 2020

As the UK comes to terms with Covid-19 and a variety of ensuing lockdowns, many people still work from home, and plenty expect to do so in the long term.

Some organisations are now considering how to use their work from home policy to aid recruitment, future-proofing themselves in case of further outbreaks.

In recent weeks, the news has been full of stories about companies permanently closing offices, as bosses belatedly realise the productivity benefits working from home can bring.

The list of firms already announcing widespread office closures (but not job losses) includes Capita and Linklaters, while new champions of home working include NatWest, HSBC and Twitter.

Many staff enjoy working from home, gaining a better work/life balance and more flexibility.

But this is a big cultural change, and it’s placing unprecedented strain on the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

Network providers were already struggling to achieve Boris Johnson’s plans for a nationwide full-fibre rollout.

(That seems to have been modified to promise national ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband, which can be delivered in various ways.)

So, will UK broadband cope with this transition? And what can those who work from home do to get the best connection?

What we learned from lockdown

Generally speaking, the UK’s broadband infrastructure coped well with lockdown.

Despite many households juggling home education with working and endless Zoom/Teams calls, broadband providers were quick to react with various supportive strategies.

Of course there were issues, but generally things worked well.

The fact there are now strong indications that home working will become part of the ‘new normal’ reflects this level of success.

But while a five-month lockdown was a challenge, will our infrastructure be able to cope in the long term?

Work from home broadband in 2020 – and beyond

In a stroke of good luck for consumers, the post-lockdown period is coinciding with a spell of fierce competition between ISPs.

And that competition seems set to last.

This is partly driven by the emergence of 5G, but also by the potential for a larger market strengthened by government support.

The latter is thanks to the UK Government’s commitment to gigabit broadband, with a promise in the March 2020 budget of £5 billion in available funding.

There are also new technologies that promise astonishingly high broadband speeds.

In other words, broadband providers have it all to play for – and that’s potentially great news for anyone planning to work from home.

As broad’ as it’s long

While some of these matters will take time to play out, we are already seeing great deals across the UK broadband market, many of which will be ideal for home-based employees.

And as we have seen, the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems willing to contribute to a faster future online.

So it makes sense for everyone – not just those with home offices – to keep an eye on the broadband market and new deals going forward.

In the meantime, lockdown has shown the UK’s broadband infrastructure to be resilient.

Of course there were delays and slowdowns at a domestic level, but they were barely sufficient to rank above normal outages and temporary service interruptions.

Thanks in part to the work already done to roll out gigabit broadband and allow UK consumers to enjoy streaming media, the home-working revolution looks set to be a success.

It’s just a shame it took a global pandemic to fully highlight the benefits of reducing commuting, and giving staff the freedom to work from home.

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!