Could poor at-home internet dampen the remote work revolution?

As more people work from home, many are facing internet connectivity and accessibility issues, according to Cisco’s Broadband Index.

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Cisco research shows that a significant number of workers across the globe are having their remote and hybrid work efforts undermined by poor broadband connectivity.

The company's latest Broadband Index, released last month, surveyed 60,000 workers in 30 countries to learn more about their home broadband access, quality, and usage. The findings show that people today value access to the internet more than ever and feel that universal access to a fast, reliable connection, is key to economic and societal growth.

Fuelling the work-from-home shift

The hybrid-office and remote-work business models that followed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic rely heavily on the internet connection employees have access to. According to Cisco, while 84% of respondents actively use broadband at home for four hours or more a day, 75% of workers said broadband services need to dramatically improve to support how many people now work.

Internet connections have also come under more strain, particularly as white collar workers were confined to their homes during the last two years. Of those surveyed by Cisco, 60% live in households where more than three people use the internet at the same time.

With 48% of the world’s workforce now relying on their home internet to work or run their own business, 43% of respondents plan to upgrade their service in the next 12 months to handle the additional demands being placed on their broadband connection.

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Although mandatory work-from-home orders have been lifted in many places, a large percentage of workers are still at home for the majority of the work week. Many have embraced the trend whole-heartedly, while a significant percentage of those who face being force back into the office have said they’d rather look for a new job than lose the chance to work from home.

Jonathan Davidson, executive vice president and general manager, mass-scale infrastructure group at Cisco, said that secure, high-quality, reliable internet is critical, especially if hybrid work models are to be successful.

“[Cisco is] working closely with our global service provider customers to change the economics of the internet and help them reimagine internet infrastructure to make it better and more accessible to connect more people and businesses who rely on it,” he said.

Tackling the digital divide?

Though bandwidth matters to remote workers, having an internet connection of any quality is a luxury in some parts of the world. Guy Diedrich, senior vice president and global innovation officer at Cisco, noted that more than 40% of the world remains unconnected.

“The inability to connect those roughly 3.4 billion people over the next 10 years risks widening the digital divide even more,” Diedrich said. “As business leaders and technologists, we must help the rising tide of the digital age lift all ships.”

Infrastructure, or a lack thereof, plays a major role when it comes to limiting internet access. Rural and remote areas are still more likely to remain offline, as the costs of installing the needed equipment can be up to five times higher than in urban areas. When communities are poorer or less educated, these costs can become aggravated, meaning telecoms need substantial incentives to connect them. (The problem is not limited to developing countries, however; a study from Reviews.org in 2021 found that in the United States, the 10 least-connected states all had large rural populations and high rural poverty rates.)

Data from the Broadband Index further underscores concerns about the digital divide: 65% of respondents said access to affordable and reliable broadband will become a major issue, especially as connectivity becomes increasingly vital for job and educational opportunities. Furthermore, 58% of those surveyed said they were unable to access critical services such as online medical appointments, online education, social care, and utility services during lockdown due to an unreliable broadband connection.

Universal broadband access and connectivity has become a political talking point, too, with governments around the world often including internet promises in their election manifestos.

In the UK, for example, the Conservative party promised to provide full-fiber broadband to 95% of the population in its 2015, 2017 and 2019 manifestos. During the last UK election, the Labour party went a step further, pledging to nationalize parts of BT and provide full-fiber broadband for free.

According to Cisco, 75% of respondents would like to see governments accelerate plans to ensure high-speed and reliable internet is available to everyone.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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