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Study Claims Poor Home Broadband and Mobile Hampers Remote Working

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017 (12:02 am) - Score 513

A new Opinium survey of 2,006 “nationally representative” UK adults has claimed that 25% of UK employees have had issues with their broadband or mobile services when working from home over the last year and 46% of those have experienced such severe problems that they’ve given up on it.

The uSwitch commissioned study noted that some 43% of UK employees responded to say that they had worked from home at least once (17% of those who remote work said they “always work from home“), which is partly thanks to the growing number of businesses that offer increasingly flexible work environments, and this figure rises to 55% amongst those aged 18-34.

Generally home workers are most likely to use their broadband connection to email colleagues or clients (76%), research and browse the internet (69%), share files via the cloud (39%) and stay in touch via Skype (34%).

However the fact that a quarter of respondents have suffered problems while trying to remote work is a concern. Apparently the most common complaint amongst home working internet users was having broadband speeds that were “simply too slow for them to work effectively” (32%), while 18% have suffered from an intermittent connection.

As a result of this some 30% of respondents found that they were unable to send a large file to their clients or colleagues and 9% were on a conference call when it cut out. Meanwhile 32% of Mobile users complained that their reception was patchy, while 11% couldn’t get any reception at all in their home.

Working from home issues experienced % of those with an issue impacted
I was unable to send a large file to a colleague or client 30%
I had to work late to make up the lost time 25%
I lost an opportunity or some business 20%
I was stopped from working from home 20%
I missed a deadline 16%
I lost a client 13%
I was on a conference call or Skype to a colleague or client and it cut out 9%

The study claims that workers have spent a combined £190 million (total spend on finding alternative ways to work around poor broadband or mobile reception) over the last year on alternative measures to ensure they had consistent access to internet and phone services. For example, some visited a local cafe to access WiFi (16%), while others purchased a signal booster (16%) or switched provider to improve their service (17%).

Sadly 25% of respondents ended up having to work late to make up for the lost time and 20% said they have lost a work opportunity or some business due to shoddy service.

At this point it would have been useful to know the urban vs rural split of the survey, as well as some details on which connectivity / package types were being used for the broadband side of things. It’s interesting to note that, for mobile, respondents were also asked, “did you check your network’s coverage map before signing up to their service, to check the indoor signal in your area?” and 55% said no.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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13 Responses
  1. CarlT says:

    This I can empathise with. I have 2 broadband connections being load balanced by a £200 router so am doing my bit for that £190 million figure.

  2. TheFacts says:

    11% of UK homes have no mobile coverage?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Indoor signals by the sounds of it.

    2. TheFacts says:

      Respondents were asked: ‘Did you check your network’s coverage map before signing up to their service, to check the indoor signal in your area?’ – the net response for ‘no’ was 55%

  3. Chris says:

    I work from home at least once a week. I am on a 3Mbps ADSL line. I use a slightly patchy mobile for most voice calls although skype calls also work. I often share screens over Skype for Business and that works OK as well. I connect via a VPN. Outlook mail works but can be a bit slow to sync mailboxes. We don’t allow cloud storage and large files typically live on the companies network. I am lucky I am a product but the developers tend to work on remote servers, often hosted in India. In short a well run IT infrastructure can support home workers with feeble connectivity. I do get issues when my son is back from Uni as he can be a bandwidth hog. The biggest issue I face is reliability of the line which is long and largely strung on poles but even that has not been too bad recently.


    1. CarlT says:

      Agreed for the most part, however sadly at times I do need to download and upload large files.

      Most things are done in the cloud. I can certainly use a combination of cloud CRM, file hosting and remote servers reachable via SSH to do many things but every so often a critical issue means I need as much bandwidth as I can get my hands on to move the files around and work on them as quickly as possible.

      Kids do chew through bandwidth. My daughter averages about 2.6 Mb/s during her screen time.

  4. Tim says:

    I work from home all the time (i’m a software developer) and it is the low upload speed that is the biggest problem – I have an EO ADSL Max line running at the theoretical maximum, but 800Kbps upload is just too slow when you need to transfer multi-GB files. Personally I’m surprised so many people manage to work from home with slow broadband.

    1. MikeW says:

      I work from home all the time too, as a software developer. Nowadays we have an 80/20 line, but back when we only had an 8Mbps ADSL connection, the slow upload was rarely a problem.

      Of course, it required us to architect our IT environment correctly, using repositories and build machines out in the ‘net; our main upload activities were reduced to manageable check-in activities.

      Nowadays, that would be even easier & cheaper, with the ability to startup AWS instances on the fly.

      It doesn’t work if the smallest building blocks for checkin are still large files – such as audio or video content, but “just” code tends to be straightforward.

      The other half does a more “normal” job, but still works from home. Her company has a similar setup, though oriented at document management rather than code management.

      The biggest change we experienced from ADSL days does come from upload though. Having more than a couple of Mbps available makes it much easier to use VoIP and host web-conferences, alongside uploads.

      Like @CarlT above, our biggest bandwidth consumption comes from the kids, and increasingly from some of the TV in the evening. Not from work.

    2. GNewton says:

      @MikeW: Your work situation cannot always be replicated. It often depends on the customer. You might as well degrade your local computer to a remote terminal, and have everything else, including your built-systems, and repositories, located on a remote system, e.g. dedicated server with a good webhost. But the costs for just a few of these can quickly approach the costs of a leased line, or FTTP-on-demand

      Quite often the best solution is to relocate the office to an area which has better network infrastructures. In the UK we still have to face the postcode lottery when it comes to decent broadband provision.

    3. MikeW says:

      Not much of a lottery nowadays, when over 93% win. Important to work on the 7% though.

      Otherwise, I agree – not every work situation can be given a workable solution. But with thought, a lot can – even the kinds of occupation that are traditionally thought of as “high bandwidth”.

      When we first set this up, then you are right – the dedicated servers cost plenty of money.

      However, if I were starting it up from scratch right now, I’d probably start it on Amazon’s AWS platform. Entry-level EC2 instances would be around $10 per month, and EBS storage and backup/snapshot around $5-10 per month. That would easily be enough to host a repository, or quite probably a Jenkins master.

      (A “cheap to try out” way into AWS would be a VPS from Amazon Lightsail, $5pm up. 10 of these for the cost of an FTTC line, certainly not approaching the cost of a leased line)

      Jenkins can then be configured to automatically create a more powerful EC2 instance as a slave when load levels demand. Instead of paying $200-300pm for a beefy machine 24×7, you could find yourself paying a small fraction of that for on-the-fly build and test activities. Possibly just $10pm.

      I disagree about degrading the local machine though – you want something powerful enough to code, build and test locally for fast coding cycles.

  5. GNewton says:

    @MikeW: “you want something powerful enough to code, build and test locally for fast coding cycles.”

    Hmmm, you can’t have it both ways. I often need powerful local machines for this very reason, with all the development tools at my disposal, which I won’t find on those cheap AWS packages. So back to the choice of dedicated remote machines, or better local bandwidth. We went for the latter, and didn’t move into the countryside.

    1. MikeW says:

      Errr… I can indeed have it both ways. And do have it both ways – this isn’t theoretical stuff. With your statement, I’m not sure you have the right picture in your head of either what the machines do, or what the processes are.

      AWS doesn’t replace the local development environment at all. You keep your copy of the code on the desktop, and compile/test it there too.

      AWS then holds the repository server. You check the existing source code out of there once at the start of the project; you check-in any changes you have made at regular intervals (every few hours to every few days); you synchronise regularly to copy out everyone else’s changes.

      The repository doesn’t need much power, but does need dependable storage & backup. AWS can provide this combination really rather cheaply, and has the right tools available for free.

      When we first did this, it needed an expensive dedicated server. Not for the power of the machine, but to make the storage dependable enough. Nowadays, it is so much easier and cheaper.

      The bandwidth usage between developer and repository is almost always very minor – a checkin is just transferring a few source text or graphic files. The interaction is essentially spread out throughout the entire development cycle; not just once at the end.

      – Powerful local machine, used in office hours
      – Low-power remote server with dependable storage, available 24×7.
      – Low bandwidth demands between the two.

      The build system is an optional extra, but can be useful nowadays…

      The master for the build system, running in AWS, starts out with similar needs to the repository. Once it gets hold of updated source from the repository, it runs the same compilation, test and build activities that you perform on the local machine, but it works free of humans, so doesn’t need the same fast responsiveness.

      Some of the build tools need more power, but don’t run often … and once you outgrow the (low) power of the master, you can have AWS create powerful slave instances on the fly.

      – Low-power remote server for build master, available 24×7
      – High-power remote slaves for build & regression test, created on the fly, used (and paid for) maybe 1×7.

      The ultimate outcome is that we need neither expensive dedicated remote servers nor expensive local bandwidth.

      Over the last 15 years, the biggest change for “remote servers” comes not from their virtualisation (which is a big change itself), but from the access to dependable storage … and the way we have learnt to trust (or otherwise) that storage.

      Once you learn to live with the fact that the real copy of your data lives in the cloud, the copy on your local machine acts more like a temporary cache.

  6. GNewton says:

    @MikeW: We discussed this before. It looks like your needs are different. If I were to replicate your approach I’d hopelessly run out of bandwidth requirement without a fibre line. You are probably dealing only with a few clients in a month where a simple AWS storage would indeed be sufficient. Also, I assume you are not doing heavy graphics or media design as part of your web or server projects?

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