Working from home broadband

March 4th, 2022
Working from home broadband

Even before the pandemic lockdowns, more Britons than ever before were working from home. Now there are still more and the numbers will almost certainly carry on rising. Education too is beginning to shift to the Net, as is socialising and entertainment. That means that many home broadband set-ups are beginning to buckle under the weight of all that extra demand. When Netflix is struggling you can switch it off, but when broadband issues are affecting your work, you have to act.

Homeworking has a lot of advantages but your remoteness from IT support isn’t one of them. Most firms have the sense to maintain skilled support for outworkers but no matter how good they are, they cannot see your computer, wiring, routers or home layout. They don’t know which broadband package you signed up for, how many other family members use it or what the service quality is like in your neighbourhood. That doesn’t mean you are completely alone if you have a problem, but you do need to take ownership of it.

Is your broadband package at fault?

Before considering a broadband upgrade, we always advise you to rule out other possible causes. A diverse number of things can cause your computer to slow down when working online.

The first thing to rule out is an issue with your own computer. Are there other applications running on it and competing for memory or even for internet access? Some viruses do this – a common example is a bitcoin miner that pirates your computing power and connection in order to mint bitcoins for an unscrupulous hacker. You can quickly identify or rule out this problem by running a free antivirus program such as Kaspersky Antivirus.

If you are logged into your company’s Cloud resources, the next thing to check is whether they are having a problem delivering the services you are requesting. Try accessing other websites to see if that is difficult too. If not, then you need to tell your company’s IT there is a problem at their end.

The third thing to rule out is whether someone else in your home is making heavy demands on your connection. A couple of kids streaming their own movies at the same time will pinch many connections. Rather than provoking a family drama, it may be time to upgrade your broadband package. It is also sometimes possible to reduce the burden by getting them to stream in a lower resolution. Netflix has settings that allow you to change this.

In rare circumstances, the person competing for your bandwidth may not live in your house at all. If your router is not properly secured, it is possible for someone living within Wi-Fi range to log on and stream content for free over your line. If you are suspicious you need to log into your router and check that WPA security is enabled. It is rare, but you should be aware of this possibility. IT support can help if you are not familiar with routers.

Lastly, you need to check that you have a good Wi-Fi connection to your router (if you use Ethernet, check the cable for twists or damage instead). Many computers display an icon in the task bar showing your signal strength, otherwise, you can go to your internet settings and scan for all routers in range. If your work room is far from the router, moving closer may help. When that is impossible you can consider a signal booster, or asking your ISP for a better router.

Checking your broadband performance

If none of the above explain your problem, you need to check the performance of your broadband package by using a free speed test app. There are many online: a popular one is Speedtest.net. In principle, even the slowest internet deals today (around 10Mbps) should be adequate for most domestic purposes – including home working, however countless tests show that providers often fail to deliver it. A speed shortfall on a budget package is most noticeable when you transfer large files (such as a website backup) or participate in video conferences with colleagues.

Almost all broadband packages include “small print” that says the quoted speed is a maximum rather than a minimum. In other words, your provider gives you less when their lines are busy. Whether they restrict you or someone else often depends on how heavily you use your account over the month and heavier users are often the first to be “deprioritised”.

Choosing broadband packages for home working

When you start working from home, you will be using a lot more data than you did when you were out at the office. Even if you don’t video conference or transfer large files, all that data usage adds up over the month. This high usage is often what causes the broadband provider to restrict your speed. To avoid this, make sure your current broadband package specifies “Unlimited Data” – but this is not a guarantee, the ISP can claim you still have data access even though they have reduced your speed. If this is the case, you might notice that your connection problems are worse at the end of your payment month, or only crop up at peak hours (when they are short of network capacity).

Their customer service department ought to be able to tell you if your access is being throttled but in our experience, they often don’t know. The decision is often taken by traffic management engineers. When this is a problem you have two choices – change your package or change your provider.

If you think the shortfall in your speed is unreasonable you should consider switching to a broadband provider who doesn’t overload their own network capacity and who therefore receives better customer reviews. If your problems are only intermittent and you think they have a fair point – consider upgrading to a faster package with the same company.

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