Broadband backup isn’t fit for business

Domestic web connections aren’t built for a nation of homeworkers

As I type, the government is shooing us all back to our kitchen tables and spare bedrooms, as the great “return to the office” is reversed by a second spike in COVID-19 infections. Homeworking is back and will be for many months – if not permanently, once cash-strapped companies decide they can do without those expensive open-plan disease-spreaders. 

One of the minor miracles of the first lockdown was that the broadband network coped remarkably well. Millions of impromptu Zoom meetings failed to drag down broadband networks – indeed, the biggest spikes in traffic were caused by the release of updates to video games, not the office chinwag with Nigel and Sophie. 

However, there is one aspect of the broadband network that is definitely not fit for business: fault repair. Most domestic internet connections are on Openreach’s Level 1 repair tier. This means that after you’ve reported a fault to your broadband provider, Openreach should fix the problem by 23:59 on the working day after next. So, if you find your broadband is down at 8am on Tuesday morning, Openreach has until the stroke of midnight on Thursday to repair it. That’s up to two days of lost work, assuming everything happens as it should.

It doesn’t, of course. Openreach’s performance figures for July-September 2019 – before the added complications of COVID were thrown into the mix – show that 86% of lines are fixed within one working day, but only 88% are fixed within two. That means more than one in 10 people are waiting three working days or more to get back online, during which time you may have been fired by an unsympathetic boss or reduced to a quivering broadband-less wreck. 

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There are ways around this problem. Most broadband providers offer business-grade connections with same-day repair targets, but these don’t come cheap. A less costly alternative is BT’s Halo package, which provides backup in the form of a 4G mobile router. But here’s the catch: they don’t send out the router until you report a problem! What’s the point of a broadband backup that takes a day or two to arrive by post? 

If you want to guarantee business continuity, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands. You can use your smartphone as a mobile hotspot, but that’s only a very short-term fix and will chew through your mobile data.

A better option is a dedicated 4G router, such as the Netgear LTE Modem, which you can get for around £130. Pair that with a dedicated mobile data SIM card (Giffgaff will sell you 80GB of data for £20, for example) and you have a ready-made backup. 

Some expensive routers are also fitted with 4G SIM card slots that allow your landline connection to fall back on mobile data if the main connection goes down. Beware, however, that most broadband providers get ratty about supporting anything but their supplied routers, so you’ll be on your own if you get a problem with it. 

But it begs the question: now that homeworking has become a big thing, why aren’t major broadband providers offering 4G backup in their own routers? Especially providers such as BT, who have their own mobile network (EE) to fall back on. It’s time these big companies had our backs covered when we need it most – not a day or two later.

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