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Will the UK’s Broadband Services Hold Up During the Coronavirus?

Apr 23, 2020 | Broadband

Will the UK’s Internet Hold Up During the Coronavirus?

That’s a question we’ve all been asking in the last couple of months. Back in March, the government announced that everyone should work from home, if at all possible. With this announcement, everyone wondered if the broadband services would be able to manage that heavier than normal load.

During Spain’s lockdown, people were urged to reduce their Internet usage in a bid to keep services up and running.

More people are self-isolating and moving their lives online. For some this is a way to cope with the difficulties of self-isolation, and for others it’s a combination of coping and working from home. Add into all of this the fact that if schools close down, then kids will be at home doing homework, attending classes, playing video games and visiting with friends. This is a heavy load—will our broadband be able to sustain this level of use?

There have been some hiccups along the way. For instance, copper thieves stole copper cable used for an older broadband network in Maryport, West Cumbria (England). The damage will take some time to repair, especially considering we’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

In another incident, Sky broadband suffered an outage across a wide service area in the south of England. The outage occurred when millions across the region began to logon to start their workday at home. More than 2,000 outage reports were submitted that morning.

With everyone logging on across the UK, many have asked if the UK’s aging broadband system would survive the test of millions of people logging on every day from home. UK broadband operators have responded that the network is sufficient and strong enough to deal with the increased network capacity. However, some have questioned if home users will experience slowdowns and connection issues during the pandemic.

Broadband connections from home and work have grown increasingly more valuable, especially to those who work from the office and from home. Broadband has become necessary to make connections with family, friends, coworkers and business partners. It’s also the main way to access such services as shopping and banking, among others. During the time of self-isolation, the load has only increased.

Families face additional challenges when children are home from school. Then it becomes who can access the Internet when, as both parents and kids need to work online. The answers aren’t easy and may include limiting the amount of time kids can be online, regulated (by the parents) homework hours, etc. Sharing the home network connection could be a struggle, especially when parents must work from home.

Another issue is the availability of high-speed fibre broadband. The older network uses copper wire to make connections like ADSL. Recently Ofcom estimated that only 3 million homes, about 10% of all households, have access to high-speed fibre connections. In this aspect, the UK falls behind other countries.

In addition, mobile broadband has also become more accessible and popular in certain areas. Many who work from home can use these connections with apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and others. However, this further increases the load on the UK’s Internet infrastructure. When it comes to mobile accessibility, access to a 4G network often depends on where you live. Ofcom reported that 80% of homes and business in the UK have indoor 4G connections, while 5G is only available in about 40 UK towns and cities.

As you can see, there’s quite a difference in access to broadband, the type of connection you can access, and more. It depends on where you live, what’s available in your area (or not) and more.

The highest usage of the Internet is also often varied by industries. For instance, the highest use of broadband technologies is from the business and professional service industries, while the lowest use comes from the construction and accommodation/food industries.

With all of these challenges, it could be that those working from home could face some significant challenges with their lack of Internet connection or a connection that’s become very slow. In addition, remote workers face the issue of learning how to use new apps to connect with their company’s networks, conduct virtual meetings and more.

Additional issues for those working from home deal with cybersecurity risks. There’s no doubt that people working from home will face great risk from these threats. It’s a fact that home Internet connections are not as secure as those of a corporate network. As a result, those working remotely from home will need to take extra precautions. They may need to work using a virtual private network and other precautions, especially when working with sensitive information and data.

There’s no question people of the UK are resilient and will master the challenges of working remotely. The main question comes down to whether or not the UK broadband network will sustain such heavy use during the coronavirus pandemic. While the government says there’s nothing to worry about, the reality of our situation could be quite different. The government continues to assure everyone in the UK that all households and businesses will have access to high-speed fibre and gigabit-capable broadband by the end of 2025. Time will tell whether or not the UK’s broadband infrastructure will hold up to the additional usage by millions working and studying from home.

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