The start of 2020 has been disruptive to say the least. The Covid-19 health pandemic has temporarily restructured our way of life in rapid and profound ways.
A rising tide of floods and storms have battered communities and left residents and businesses facing untold damage and despair. Growing concerns over carbon emissions from congested roads and industrial action affecting transport systems remain ever-present.
What’s the end game? How can local economies and rural communities protect themselves from such disruption with reliability and speed? One natural beacon of light for such foggy times is full-fibre broadband. We’re building our Hyperfast network in dozens of rural and remote areas in East Anglia, connecting thousands of premises to our future-ready service.
Meanwhile, average data consumption per fixed broadband line increased by 26% to reach 240GB per month in 2018, the latest Ofcom figures show.
But only 10% of UK premises have access to full-fibre broadband which provides future-ready speeds of up to 1,000mbps. The rest of us rely on a part fibre, part copper network known as ‘superfast’ which has limited speeds and can be unreliable during peak times.
Against this backdrop, the coronavirus outbreak has enforced large swathes of people to work from home. Early adopters of remote working, like us, have benefited from a smooth transition to provide a ‘business as usual’ service. Others less prepared have been forced into swift action, setting up virtual private networks (VPNs) and cloud apps offering task management, communication and document sharing functions for the first time.
But all require a stable, secure and quite frankly speedy internet connections. Especially as a national trial of en masse, large-scale remote working gets under way.
Could the significant uptick in demand strain the country’s ancient copper-based network beyond its limits and expose weaknesses? This is contested but certainly rural areas, from Thriplow to Tibenham, will be feeling the pinch as bottlenecks move from roads to routers.
What can we expect? Lag issues with video calls and conferencing for work and education, stuttering mass access to internet trading systems, and buffering Netflix binges as we seek an antidote for the common boredom.
We can’t forget those pesky cumbersome software updates too, or online gaming from those in self-isolation. Elsewhere, staple industry events are being replaced by live-streaming events. It would be remiss to not highlight that full-fibre broadband provides symmetrical speeds – meaning upload speeds zoom along at the same rate as downloads. From 4K video specialists and graphic designers, to farmers uploading huge agricultural files, the banishment of the lopsided download/upload ratio can only be a boon to productivity.
Once workers have their work-from-home appetite whetted, and once employers realise the productivity and other benefits, such as increased staff motivation and retention and reduce travel costs, then we will ever return to how things were before March 2020? Will the stigma of working from home be banished by the pandemic?
We must not forget the risks of cabin fever or depriving workers of collaboration, mentorship, developing a culture, support, socialising, even friendship, and of course the serendipitous chance meetings by the water cooler, not just to discuss the latest Amazon Prime hit, but to spark those elusive, vital eureka moments, as advocated by Steve Jobs. Issues with data security as personal laptops access work networks must not be overlooked too.
It should be clear to everyone by now that Boris Johnson’s infrastructure revolution, being accelerated by the likes of us, will be our sword and shield in such challenging times.
Residents and businesses can find out if they’re in a village covered in the rollout by searching below.