Inadequate home internet speeds contribute to ‘digital divide’ during UK lockdown

Survey reveals connectivity speeds are considered inadequate in 30% of properties and over one-third admit to judging the competence of colleagues who have connectivity issues during conferencing sessions

Nearly one-third of UK remote workers are suffering from inadequate connectivity speeds, according to a study from network benchmarking firm Global Wireless Solutions (GWS).

GWS based its findings on what it said was real-world scientific testing of over 2,000 UK households’ internet connections. The study involved it testing the speeds of home internet connections in households and conducting in-depth consumer research into how home internet performance has impacted people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study mainly involved ISPs, as almost all (89%) of the homes tested and surveyed used their home broadband network to connect to the internet, as opposed to their mobile network.

The inadequate speeds revealed were defined as less than 2Mbps download and 1Mbps upload, making routine tasks such as video calling a struggle. Citing Ofcom standards, less than two-thirds of properties were said to have a “decent” broadband service of at least 10Mbps download and a 1Mbps upload.

The result was that more than half of UK consumers were left feeling isolated during lockdown due to poor internet performance and, worse, as many as half of home-working professionals felt their own competence was being judged when internet connectivity was bad.

Such inequalities in home internet performance impeding some consumers’ ability to work and stay “connected” during the pandemic and lockdown periods. GWS said the study findings suggest that there is a noticeable “digital divide” in the UK.

Yet while business offices are likely to ensure a level playing field when it comes to internet bandwidth, home offices have uncovered inequalities that are negatively impacting professional lives. Half of the respondents admitted to feeling “judged” on their competence if their network didn’t hold up when speaking to colleagues in a work setting from home.

The findings suggested this is not just about feeling incompetent – more than one-third of respondents (37%) admitted they also questioned their colleagues’ competence when they saw them suffering connectivity issues. This figure increased to over a half (55%) in Greater London, suggesting that those in the capital are less tolerant of connection issues.

As the country’s reliance on video conferencing has grown, people are most likely to worry about network performance on video or voice calls, with the survey showing that 34% have had problems with video calling and conferencing over the last few months. When connected to their home internet, 62% of all respondents reported experiencing a range of issues, including being unable to load websites, stream videos or connect to video conferences.

Also, just over one-tenth of the sample admitted a colleague had commented on their poor connection during a voice or video call, and this increased to one-fifth among younger workers aged 18 to 24. But the data showed that such video services are here to stay, and the majority of respondents (65%) intended to continue using video-based platforms after the technology’s prolific rise this year.

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While those in urban areas were more likely to feel isolated by poor home internet connectivity, the study also found that rural respondents were more likely to do something about it. Three-fifths of urbanites admitted they felt unable to communicate effectively with others at some points during this year, yet this was the case for only 43% living in rural areas.

In terms of addressing these issues, just over a quarter (27%) of all respondents would change providers if problems persisted, a figure that increased to 39% for respondents living in rural areas. People were also relying increasingly on the availability of their mobile signal at home. When experiencing poor connectivity during a video call, 20% of all consumers said they switch from their Wi-Fi to their mobile network.

With a lot staked on 5G already to address future home and work demands, the study revealed that consumers were optimistic about the promise of 5G networks. More than one-quarter (26%) thought 5G would help to fix the nation’s “digital divide” in the future, a figure that increased to 34% for those living in urban areas.

The fact that one-third of homes in the UK don’t have sufficient speeds to perform routine tasks was not just disappointing but also a real eye-opener, particularly at a time when most people are at home and relying on their networks more than ever, said GWS CEO Paul Carter.

“Like it or loathe it, life as we know it has changed and having a sufficient internet connection is essential for being able to work and live,” he said. “Without reasonable throughputs, consumers risk feeling disconnected, frustrated and anxious. But there is hope.

“While it’s unsurprising that people who have poor internet connections will change broadband providers when they can, we’re also seeing people willing to switch to mobile, which most likely indicates that indoor mobile coverage is improving over previous years. This will only be intensified by the roll-out of 5G around the country.

“In addition, consumers in the UK should know that, per Ofcom, they have a right to request a decent broadband service. Many of the participants in our study may want to consider this or go completely wireless and work through their mobile operator.”

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