07th April 2020
by Mile Gatty
Head of Secure Connectivity
Over the past few weeks, most UK organisations have mobilised business continuity strategies to better enable their employees to work from home, as per the requirements of the recent lockdown limitations. And whilst ‘working from home’ is a term not unfamiliar to many of us, it is certainly something many businesses have not had to accommodate extensively before now.
According to the UK Government Office for National Statistics (ONS), prior to COVID-19, just 5.3% of the UK worked remotely with the home as their main place of work from Jan-Dec 2019. During the same period, 30% of the UK said they’ve worked from home at some point during the week. All of this is about to change forever.
The simple fact is corporate working practices will never be the same again both during and following the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak: the percentage of remote workers will likely increase as lockdown restrictions decrease. Many will want to continue working from home – even if only part-time – as they recognise the impact long commutes may have on productivity, as well as the convenience of being close to home and family.
No doubt, you’ve already been through the initial steps of getting IT, laptops, security policies, UC applications, and connectivity implemented. Important at this early stage to ensure operations can continue to run despite disruption. But considering that before long, home working will be the new norm, what do businesses need to keep in mind to stay securely connected even after this initial time of turbulence?
Connectivity and Capacity – Home Broadband Usage
There has been significant debate about whether the UK’s broadband provider core networks have enough capacity to cope with the massive increase in traffic due to the surge of employees working from home. Most home users will be connected via the home or consumer-grade broadband, and speed will generally depend on the postcode lottery of how lucky you are in terms of distance from your nearest exchange.
Whilst keeping your employees connected may be something keeping you up at night, current evidence suggests that – even with the additional ‘school from home’ traffic – the main UK networks are holding up well. Howard Watson, Chief Technology and Information Officer at BT Group said: “We have more than enough capacity in our UK broadband network to handle mass scale home-working in response to COVID-19.”
Whilst operators are making efforts to increase capacity, the more toward Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) is something we won’t see the benefit of until the latter part of 2020. However, given the current uncertainty around COVID-19 – this could easily move into 2021. In the meantime, we will have to rely on existing legacy copper broadband networks.
The good news here is that the big five broadband providers (BT, Talktalk, Virgin, Sky, and O2) have agreed to remove data caps on home broadband usage. The home office has now become the primary office for the foreseeable future and our recommendation would be to explore how secure connectivity from the home office can be made less consumer and more enterprise.
Improved Connectivity Performance – SD-WAN
Another area to keep in mind is connectivity performance. With providers like BT Openreach issuing an MBORC (Matters Beyond Our Reasonable Control) statement to the UK market, all new provisions will be put on hold – except for installs performed off-site, or provisions for critical national infrastructure and the vulnerable.
This may well mean you will need to optimise what you already have in terms of connectivity at home and remote sites. New technologies such as SD-WAN could well come into its own to significantly enhance performance during this period.
Even on a single circuit connection, SD-WAN could vastly improve the home–user connectivity quality of experience, as well as critical business application performance with faster throughput. SD-WAN’s inherent security capabilities also allow for enterprise-grade policies to be quickly and effectively deployed in the home office.
Another key benefit of the lower cost SD-WAN edge appliance approach is that you can deploy across your workforce using zero-touch provisioning. In other words, the appliances can be shipped to your remote workers, simply plugged into a power source, and connected to the broadband where it will automatically download a working configuration. If you have 4G coverage and connectivity you could deploy an SD-WAN appliance that will allow you to use both 4G and broadband, improving your connectivity performance even further.