Plugging into remote working
One of the ways to suppress the Covid-19 virus is to manage our interactions with each other carefully; this is as true in the workplace as it is when we are at home or out and about in public. Social distancing, living within a bubble, self-isolation and quarantines are all new terms that now govern the way we live, says Paul Stobart, CEO of Zen Internet.
One consequence of all this has been the move to home or remote working. Whether this becomes a sociological shift in human behaviour, or a passing fad, one thing is clear demand for ultrafast connectivity in the home environment will continue to increase dramatically.
This is not just because of Covid; there are many other drivers of a desire for enhanced speeds more streaming of video on demand services, gaming, the digitisation of the home including the prevalence of more and more ‘always on’ IoT devices, multiple users of computing within the home, and so on. But home-working has been the catalyst that has made tens of thousands of households review their requirements and, in many cases, make the switch to services with much higher speeds.
The challenge for our industry is to ensure that network capacity can manage much enhanced levels of data traffic whilst providing customers with the sorts of speeds they now demand. In our case, we have more than doubled our network capacity over the last 12 months and have launched ultrafast speeds of up to 1 Gbps to meet market demand. We can’t stop there though, as usage and demand are only going to go in one direction.
But what should the wider business community be considering at this time, not least as their workforces are likely to be working remotely from the office environment, at least for the foreseeable future?
Equip the workforce
Firstly, it goes without saying that businesses should ensure that their remote workers have an appropriately equipped home office. This extends to the physical as well as technological environment. And then, in order for remote workers to be as productive as possible, it’s vital that they have the right level of connectivity for their needs.
There is nothing more frustrating than being in a Teams or Zoom call and having a poor connection, something from which we have all suffered over recent months. Any drop in internet connectivity will lead to a decline in productivity. We are finding that more and more homeworkers are equipping themselves with more flexible solutions including a dedicated homeworker broadband service complete with 4G mobile back-up, or the introduction of virtual private networks, or even an SD-WAN capability, all designed to ensure that service levels for business requirements at home meet the standards required.
An additional factor to be borne in mind is that in the UK, by 2025, the Public Service Telephone Network (PSTN) will be switched off; this means that all related Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) products and services will stop being sold from 2023. This strengthens the case for businesses to review and evaluate their existing set-up and transition towards the right kind of unified communications solution, which supports business communications for a modern era, and that can be equally effective whether the user is in a remote environment, or in a physical office.
Our job, as telecommunications providers, is to make sure that we can deliver on the demands outlined above. No one saw this huge change coming, and the pressure on the industry during the lockdown to provide the enhanced connectivity that workers needed to do their job effectively and productively was immense. There were outages during this period, that’s clear, and it was prohibitively difficult to carry out the normal level of in-home installation and repairs, but, in general, the industry has done a reasonable job.
However, looking forward, and as workers prepare themselves for a prolonged period of home-working, we all need to learn the lessons of the first phase and work together to deliver an even more reliable, and certainly faster, service, whilst being much more responsive to an understandably more demanding customer.
Accelerate roll out
Finally, and probably most importantly, the Government needs to play its role in accelerating plans to roll out gigabit-capable broadband across the country. It must deliver on its intentions and pave the way for the UK to deploy a world-leading ultrafast connectivity capability. Having nation-wide ultrafast connectivity is a vital pre-condition for the UK economy to thrive in the post-Covid era.
As we prepare for the new world where remote working will be more and more the norm for many, we all have a responsibility, businesses to ensure the home-working environment is appropriately equipped, service providers to ensure network capacity keeps ahead of the curve and that faster speeds are made available, and the Government to incentive the roll-out of ultrafast nation-wide. Home-working is here to stay, and we all need to work together to make it the most productive environment possible.
The author is Paul Stobart, CEO of Zen Internet.