In 2016, the UN argued that internet access was a human right. Whether that be the case or not, most of us will struggle to remember a day when being connected to the internet was a privilege rather than a standard requirement.
Now in the wake of a nationwide lockdown, having access to a high-speed internet connection in your home has become more important than ever. Accelerating the digital transformation, and helping to further blur the boundaries between our work and our home lives, the global pandemic has forced us all to up the ante when it comes to creating the best possible working environment within the four walls of our homes.
With most businesses now offering home working or remote working either full time or on a rota-based or hybrid model, setting up a reliable home office broadband that meets your household needs has become imperative.
Establishing a routine from your home office and making sure you can be as productive as possible is dependent on the strength of your Wi-Fi. In this blog post, we examine some of the key considerations and common questions when it comes to choosing the right broadband package for your home office.
What is a broadband internet connection?
Today’s high-speed broadband deals have come about as a significant improvement on the traditional dial-up connections of the nineties and early noughties. The ‘narrowband’ dial-up connections of the past were, while a major technological breakthrough at the time, essentially a basic (not to mention much slower) version of the high-speed broadband services we benefit from today.
Broadband is essentially an ‘always on’ internet connection that enables users to benefit from a stronger connection, quicker download speeds, and everything from browsing and emailing to video conferencing, streaming, and gaming.
Internet users can benefit from broadband via fixed lines to their home premises, or mobile broadband (4G and 5G) gives us an example of how we can benefit from broadband wirelessly.
How does the internet get to my home?
In the UK, broadband customers benefit from six different types of internet connection, most of which reach our homes from the local telephone exchange via the traditional copper cabling used as phone lines.
Most internet service providers (ISPs) pay to ‘rent’ access to a network. Most networks provide connectivity via a fixed line on a BT Openreach or Virgin Media connection, depending on your postcode and your broadband provider.
Your chosen ISP supports you in getting your home broadband or office connection up and running, with many offering set-ups free of charge, or included within their monthly package.
Types of internet connections in the UK
There are three core ways in which an internet connection could reach your home: ADSL (basic or standard broadband), fibre broadband (fibre to the cabinet), and full fibre (fibre to the premises). The difference between these lies simply in the raw material that makes up the cabling. Fibre optic cables allow for larger volumes of data, essentially, better bandwidth, meaning fibre broadband is faster than its copper cabled counterpart, ADSL.
Within this range of different broadband options, there are six types of internet connections commonly used in the UK:
ADSL and ADSL2+ supply an internet connection via copper wiring from your local BT telephone exchange to your home.
Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) and GFast options supply internet connectivity via fibre from the exchange to the cabinet and copper cabling from the cabinet to the premises.
Cable internet is provided in a similar way to fibre to the cabinet, but the hybrid fibre-coaxial connections are linked to your property via TV aerial cables rather than via the traditional phone lines. This type of broadband connection is mostly supplied by Virgin Media or local providers.
Fibre to the premises (FTTP) is essentially fibre optic broadband which supplies connectivity via fibre cabling all the way from the exchange to your home or workplace. Fibre optic broadband is quickly becoming the most popular broadband option as it can offer download speeds of up to 2,000 Mbps depending on your broadband provider.
(Source: Home Network Solutions Berkshire)
It’s also important here to mention mobile broadband. When it comes to staying connected on the move, mobile internet has become an essential part of our day-to-day lives but, when it comes to home broadband, we often forget how handy this can be.
Setting up a WiFi hotspot to connect your laptop to your mobile connection can offer up a lifeline if your home connection goes down or is falling short when it comes to video streaming for example. With 4G and 5G connectivity at our fingertips, it’s much easier to get ourselves out of any sticky WiFi related crises. Options such as mobile pay as you go add-ons are a savvy way to ensure you have a mobile broadband connection to see you through for example if you waiting for a new provider to activate your new home connection.
Things to consider when selecting an internet provider
From the point of activation, once you’ve chosen from the different types of broadband and scoured out the range for the best broadband deals, your new provider should offer unlimited and ideally superfast broadband that allows you to benefit from faster speeds, unlimited data, and ideally, a superfast fibre connection.
That means you, and every member of your family can surf the net, scroll on social media, and stream Netflix all while you go about your day-to-day business. Upgrading or moving away from a provider that offers slower speeds means that you won’t need to worry about experiencing a lag during the peak time of day or interference when you’re running your video meeting or weekly catch up call.
Selecting an internet provider can be challenging. With a number of different broadband offerings on the market and a seemingly vast number of suppliers, from TalkTalk and Vodafone, to BT it’s easy to get blinded by the number of UK broadband deals available.
We’ve put together a list of key points to consider before you make the commitment to your chosen broadband technology provider.
1. Home office broadband speed
The speeds you require will generally depend on what you typically use the internet for on a daily basis as well as the number of people and devices sharing access to the internet.
The advertised speeds of the UK’s ISPs are ‘average’ speeds and, depending on the type of residential broadband package, these can range from basic 10 Mpbs to superfast 200 Mbps bandwidth speeds. Be mindful of the fact that the bandwidth speeds advertised are an average speed and are by no means guaranteed, particularly if you live in a rural area.
The speeds you need for your home broadband will vary greatly depending on what you will be using the internet for. For example, if your work requires file-sharing of multiple large files or uploading and downloading of several documents in the space of a day, you may want to consider an internet option that goes beyond the basic ADSL options. However, if you mostly require bandwidth for browsing and email communications, a simple, cheaper option might suffice. If you have a job whereby you need to make and receive VoIP and video conference calls regularly, you’ll need to consider a home broadband option that has a sufficient download speed and can carry that traffic.
2. Number of people who will be using your connection
The number of broadband users in your household can also affect the average speed of your home broadband.
If you live with family, or in a shared house where more than four people might use the internet at any given time, it might be worth looking at options with faster download speeds to ensure that the bandwidth will be sufficient for your entire household. For a household of around four or more broadband users, it might be wise to look at providers that boast packages with download speeds of at least 40 Mbps.
For a household of less than four, a broadband package with average speeds of at least 30 Mbps should suffice, provided your day-to-day work tasks are simple and don’t require too much bandwidth. If you’re the sole occupant, and you use the internet for simple browsing and email correspondence, a cheaper, fixed usage package might work for you, depending on the reliability of your provider.
3. Usage limits and traffic management
Be aware of broadband packages with usage limitations or traffic management policies. Where possible, it’s best to opt for providers that offer unlimited access, to ensure you’re not caught short by a capped service.
Also be aware that when transitioning to a home office environment, you will be using more data, so you will most likely need to upgrade your connectivity to allow for more traffic. If your work requires VoIP calls and video meetings, you may well need to opt for a package with a higher average speed than your previous personal home broadband.
You should expect to pay between £20-40 per month on a home office broadband service depending on your individual requirements.
Monthly prices for different types of broadband options and varying broadband contract lengths can be disparate, so establishing your minimum requirements first is a good idea.
If you’re looking for a basic ADSL broadband solution, your monthly price will be lower, and you may even find a package deal for under £20 per month whereas if you need the extra bandwidth and want a superfast option, it’s fair to expect a monthly cost of around £25-30.
5. Broadband reliability
It’s best to choose a home broadband provider with a track record of reliability. While many people opt for ISPs that boast a long-standing presence in the market, it may be a better option to canvas reviews more specific to your geographical area or use a broadband speed test relating to your postcode to ensure you will get the best possible coverage.
At peak times, your provider may experience an increase in Wi-Fi traffic, which can sometimes cause latency (or lag) in video conferencing or VoIP calls during working hours. As a response to this, it may be worth setting up mobile broadband as a back-up option, to ensure continuity as you work from home.
Hardware: routers, Wi-Fi boosters, and networking
In addition to investing in your broadband package, you may want to invest in some additional hardware to access the internet and share bandwidth.
Your broadband router should come free with the cost of your broadband package, but you may want to customise your Wi-Fi speed and range with more advanced options which can be achieved in some cases by buying your own Wi-Fi router.
To avoid weak Wi-Fi, and ensure a better signal strength throughout your property, it may be worth considering a Wi-Fi booster. Wi-Fi boosters are a popular option for those wanting to improve the broadband speed in specific areas of the home.
What is the best broadband for working from home?
The best broadband option for your home office depends on your geographical location as well as the number of broadband users in your household and your individual requirements when it comes to downloading speeds.
With a vast number of broadband deals available from the multitude of internet service providers (ISPs), it’s important to shortlist the providers that have a good reputation, especially if you live outside of a major city or in a particularly remote area.
The UK’s most popular providers include BT, EE, Sky Broadband, Virgin Media, Vodafone and PlusNet, but there are also regional suppliers who have been making waves in the industry. It’s best to shop around for the best deals using a broadband postcode checker and then canvas reviews in your area to establish whether those in your neighbourhood have a strong view on which provider might be best for your home office.
Broadband frequently asked questions
When it comes to researching the best options for your home broadband, there are a number of questions that can come up.
In many cases, your current broadband provider for home use might be sufficient. However, if your role requires storing and sharing large files such as videography or graphic design, it’s worth checking that your broadband speeds will be adequate for your requirements.
In many cases you may be able to simply upgrade with your current provider, however, if you need to opt for a higher speed broadband service, it might be worth shopping around for the best deal.
Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to investing in home broadband for work purposes:
Q: Is my broadband fast enough to work from home?
A: There are several sites that can help you test your current broadband speeds. Customer service site Which? offers a free broadband speed test online where you can check the speed of your current broadband.
For best results, it’s important to plug your computer into your router, or if you need to test wirelessly, just ensure that your computer or laptop is as close to the router as possible for the most accurate representation of your broadband speed. While conducting the test, it’s best to ensure there are no other devices or programmes using your internet connection.
In terms of the download speeds you might need for the most basic home working, you might want to aim for at least 10 Mbps for every person in your home office environment. If your current broadband isn’t sufficient for the number of people in your home, for example, if you have a family of three all using the internet at any given time, it might be best to aim for a broadband package that boasts at least 30 Mbps.
Q: What is a good broadband speed for working from home?
A: With many businesses transitioning to a virtual workspace, there is a lot of speculation around what a reasonable download speed is for working from home. Realistically though, this depends entirely on your job and what you’ll be using the internet for.
Some providers will aim to sell you the fastest, priciest package if you seem unsure what speed you might need, so it’s important to do a little research to establish what your particular speed requirements might be. Before you launch into a commitment where you’re paying more than you need to for 18 months or more, ask yourself what your non-negotiables are when it comes to your fundamental day-to-day tasks.
For example, if you’re a professional speaker or trainer, and all your sessions are now being delivered online, a smooth video conferencing capacity is essential. In this case, depending on the sizes of your live audience, it might be wise to look into packages offering between 60-200Mbps. If you’re a graphic designer and you spend your day uploading, downloading, and sharing large files, you’ll need the download and upload speeds to support that, which may mean you’d want to look at deals offering 150-200Mbps. If your role simply requires web browsing and emailing, a simple package of up to 25Mbps might suffice, but remember to take into account other members of your household and their day-to-day tasks when calculating what speeds you might require.
The best way to check what speed you might need is to trial your daily tasks with your current home broadband circumstances. If you’re finding the speeds are too slow, either upgrade with your current ISP or shop around to find the best deal elsewhere.
Q: Can I get broadband without a phone line?
A: In previous years, you needed a home phone to access the internet, but that isn’t necessarily the case anymore.
Ultimately, it depends on what level of broadband service you want. If you’re looking for a basic ADSL package or an FTTC fibre package it might be that a phone line is still required. In this case, tot-up the total cost of your monthly fees with the line rental, as paying for a full-fibre option (FTTP) may even work out cheaper and you won’t need the landline.
With FTTC options now the most widespread setup for broadband in the UK, it is still those old faithful copper phone lines that bring the internet into our homes. If you want a phone line free broadband option, it’s best to go for cable broadband (if it’s available in your area) or fibre to the premises ‘full-fibre’ (or unlimited fibre) option.
Q: How accurate are broadband speeds?
A: It’s advisable to take advertised speeds with a pinch of salt. Before May 2018, suppliers were allowed to advertise maximum speeds which only 10% of their customers might benefit from.
Now ISPs can advertise the highest average speed of at least 50% of their customers during peak hours (so between 8-10 pm for residential broadband or 12-2 pm for business customers). That means the remaining customers could experience speeds that fall short of these average speeds. If you live in a particularly rural area, you may draw the short straw when it comes to these ‘average’ speeds. It’s good to check with others in your area, to see if they feel these speeds are an accurate indication of the actual broadband speeds delivered.
It’s worth running a speed test during peak times. If you’re unhappy with the speed of your broadband service, try researching the best providers for your area. If you’re locked into a long-term commitment, a Wi-Fi booster might help you in the short term.
Originally published Oct 21, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023