Will ISPs face a backlash as millions work from home?

I’m writing this from my kitchen table – just another one of millions around the world trying to keep working through a COVID-19 lockdown. My Wi-Fi signal is holding up pretty well (so far) to the extra video calls and email attachments, but I suspect there are plenty of homes where it’s not.

For many households, suddenly more than one person is trying to work from home (WFH) at once, at the same time as kids are unexpectedly off school and keen to stream movies, play video games or (let’s be optimistic here) study online. The search for a quiet place to work – with a functioning Wi-Fi signal – can be difficult.

Is our home broadband up to the job?

Plenty has been written about the potential of WFH to “break the internet”. Many commentators insist the underlying infrastructure will cope with the strain, because the rise in home connections comes with a corresponding drop in business use. But that won’t help individual households with great broadband but poor Wi-Fi performance.

And how many households include someone who is competent to adjust settings and channels to improve their signal? Not many! You can always call your ISP helpline, but the experience is likely to be frustrating everyone on the call because the support representatives typically have little visibility or control over signal within the home.

Sadly, security is also at risk in these strange times. Hackers can work from anywhere, and they’re busy exploiting fears about COVID-19 to spread malware and keylogging software.

A more permanent shift beyond the temporary crisis

Of course, the concept of working from home or “tele-commuting” is nothing new. But the social isolation measures put in place to fight COVID-19 have forced many individuals and companies – from Wuhan to Washington DC – to try WFH for the first time, at least for extended periods.

And while we’re all looking forward to this awful time being over, I suspect many companies and their employees will learn important lessons from it about what can be done remotely. They will likely seize future opportunities to reduce commutes, cut carbon emissions, and scale back expensive office space by encouraging more WFH were it makes sense.

Time to be strategic about Wi-Fi Management and broadband security

There is only so much that broadband providers can do right now to mitigate immediate pressures on home Wi-Fi networks without having a good quality remote Wi-Fi management solution already installed in their network. They can offer step-by-step guides to improving in-home connectivity and warn subscribers about email scams. Many are also postponing non-essential maintenance work that might interrupt service.

More importantly, perhaps, they can take time to think strategically about what subscribers will want from home broadband in the future. Because as WFH becomes more common, subscribers are going to become more discerning about broadband service levels – and they’ll no longer be focusing solely on speed.

Increasingly, subscribers will demand home networks that support home working – reaching every corner of the home, and “self-healing” by switching channels or adjusting settings when signal drops. They’ll demand security systems that automatically catch and block malware – no matter how cunning the hackers are at exploiting our fears. And they’ll demand visibility and control over their in-home network at a level they can understand.

Ronald Peters | Product Manager, Trusted Home