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Broadband and working from home: a guide to broadband for your home office

Millions of people now work from home on a regular or permanent basis. Whether you're an employee working remotely or running your own business, you're going to rely heavily on broadband to get stuff done.

But the requirements of home working can impact your choice of Internet Service Provider (ISP), and you may need to pick up some additional hardware to get the most out of it.

In this guide, we'll explain what to look out for when choosing a broadband deal and how you can get the most out of your home office internet.

What is the best broadband for working from home?

Any broadband connection can be used to work from home, and in most cases, you do not need anything other than a regular home broadband deal.

If you're looking for a broadband package that is suitable for both work and leisure, and you don't have any special requirements, our recommendation would be to go with a fibre optic broadband service. This will be fast enough for most people, and there are lots of great value deals available.

Here are a few of the top offers currently available:

Dynamic deal panel

Beyond this, there are some things to consider when selecting a provider to make sure you choose the most suitable service and get the best value for your money.

Home office broadband speed

Is the broadband service fast enough for what you want to do? The right minimum speed for you is dependent on how the connection is going to be used; below are some examples of usage and what kind of speed you need for them.

  • Email and web browsing

These are usually very lightweight activities. Web pages are generally small and don't need very fast broadband, and it's likely that most of the emails you exchange will be primarily text.

Unless you're frequently sending or receiving large email attachments, a cheap ADSL broadband connection is more than capable of handling email and websites.

  • VOIP and video conferencing

Good news if you use Skype or other VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) tools for voice calls — they only require a relatively small amount of bandwidth, so you do not need a superfast connection. 

But video calling is a lot more demanding. Skype recommends a minimum speed of 300Kb down and 300Kb up for the lowest quality video, and 1.5Mb (download and upload) for the highest.

Other video chat services have similar requirements; Google Meet (Hangouts) and Apple Facetime recommend 3Mb, while Zoom quotes a minimum speed of 600Kbps and a recommended speed of 1.5Mb. The bandwidth requirements also increase when more people are involved in the call.

While these don't seem like big numbers, you need to keep in mind that these recommended speeds are for upload as well as download, and that's where a cheap ADSL connection will struggle. While most connections will easily cope with downloading at 3Mb, the maximum upload rate of any ADSL service is going to be 1Mb (and often much slower in practice).

Fibre optic broadband is far better suited to video conferencing as this technology can provide much quicker upload speeds.

  • File downloads and uploads

Depending on how often you're transferring files and how big they are, this might be the best reason to get a superfast fibre connection. 

Small files don't take long to download or upload on ADSL. But large amounts of data can leave you waiting a lot longer. If your job requires regular large downloads or uploads, it's a compelling argument for the faster transfer rates of a fibre optic broadband connection. 

Fast download and upload speeds may be particularly important if you use cloud storage for file synchronising or backup, as this could involve handling lots of data very frequently.

Is my broadband fast enough to work from home?

You can check your current broadband speed right now using our free broadband speed test

For the most accurate results, connect to your Wi-Fi router with a network cable. Or if that's not possible, sit right next to it, so the Wi-Fi signal is very strong. Also, shut down or disable all other devices connected to the internet in your home. 

You can also try running a few tests with the tasks and tools you'll need for work. Make some Skype calls, send or download files, and make sure your software works correctly.

If you suspect your broadband is not up to scratch, it may be time to find a new broadband deal. At the moment, this is our fastest broadband deal:

Dynamic deal panel

Or check out our fibre optic broadband deals to see what else is available.

Usage limits and traffic management

Some broadband connections have a monthly usage limit. But we recommend that you avoid any capped service and opt for an unlimited Wi-Fi deal whenever possible.

Using broadband for work as well as personal tasks will consume a lot more data, especially if you're going to be using it for demanding activities like video chat and file transfers.

Exceeding the cap of a limited package can mean reduced broadband speeds or extra fees.

Another restriction to watch out for is a traffic management policy. Most of the time, this will not be a problem as it's often used to slow down file sharing, but some ISPs can apply it in other ways. 

Check the terms and conditions before signing up to ensure the traffic management policy is not going to interfere. For further help read our guide to traffic management.

Sharing the connection

In addition to the above, you must also take into account the impact on your broadband from other users in your home.

Sharing broadband during working hours will place considerable extra strain on the connection. While one person might be okay working on a cheap ADSL service, the additional demands of other users may mean that fibre optic is required to prevent things from crawling to a halt when everyone tries to download files at the same time.

If you have family at home during working hours or live in a house or flat-share, then a fibre optic broadband connection is a must.

If fibre is not available in your area, you may wish to get a second phone line installed so you can have a dedicated broadband connection for work.

Can I upgrade to fast fibre optic broadband?

If you have to suddenly and unexpectedly work from home, then you might find that your current broadband isn't quite up to the task. 

Upgrading to a faster connection is usually possible (more than 95% of the country now has access to broadband speeds of 30Mb+) but it's not always something you can do quickly.

If you're upgrading an existing fibre connection — for example, going from Virgin Media 100Mb to 300Mb — then this should be completed within a day or two.

But if you move to a different type of broadband — like from BT Broadband to BT Fibre — it may take around 14 days to activate the new service.

It will also take about 14 days if you decide to upgrade by switching broadband providers.

To find out what kind of speeds you might be able to get, enter your postcode into our broadband availability checker: 

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Once you've entered your postcode, you'll only see deals available to that address. We partner with ThinkBroadband to bring you the most accurate information possible (see our privacy policy for further details).

Broadband reliability and working from home: what happens if my broadband has a fault?

If your home working is dependent on an internet connection, then it's a good idea to have a backup plan in place in case of a problem.

Mobile broadband can be a useful substitute, especially if you get a 4G or 5G connection which can provide very fast speeds.

But it is not necessary to pay for a mobile broadband dongle and SIM plan that may rarely get used, instead, you can tether a smartphone over Wi-Fi; our guide to tethering iPhone and Android devices has more information.

Another option could be a public Wi-Fi hotspot, though you'll probably have to spend some money to use those, even if it's just paying for a few cups of coffee throughout the day.

In some cases, the broadband may not be completely offline but could become slower. This might happen if there's a sudden increase in demand such as during a major news event or a situation like the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, which meant many people were forced to work from home.

The additional demand could put more strain on networks, but there's no reason that this should result in widespread outages. However, ISPs may implement stricter traffic management to ensure a reasonable level of service for everybody during work hours. It should not cause a great deal of disruption, though you may notice some activities are slower and there's more lag in real-time communications like Skype calls.

If you need to check whether your broadband is faulty you'll find links and information for online status checks - along with telephone numbers and other contact details - in our ISP customer service guides:

Business broadband - is it required to work from home?

You probably do not need business broadband for your home office.

The broadband service offered by many business ISPs is the same kind of connection as you'd get with a regular home broadband deal, and may not provide significantly better performance.

The main advantages of business broadband are:

  • Dedicated business support teams.
  • Static IP address.
  • Better Wi-Fi router.
  • Service Level Agreements and compensation.
  • Prioritised traffic.

While these features may be useful for some people — and especially companies — they are probably not something that would greatly benefit home workers. And you can still get some of these extras (such as a static IP address or better router) with a home connection.

If you think business broadband is something you need, then our guide to business broadband services has more information.

Homeworking hardware: routers, Wi-Fi boosters and networking

In addition to selecting the right type of broadband, home workers may have additional requirements for the hardware used to access the internet and share the connection.

Broadband router

Just about every internet package will include a free wireless router (some may also offer free setup) which provides access to the internet alongside wired and wireless networking functions. These are sufficient for regular users, but some home workers may want to buy their own to get more advanced features and improved Wi-Fi speed and range.

However, not every ISP allows you to choose your own hardware. Check before signing up if this is something you might want to do.

In some cases, you might be able to replace the ISP router completely, or their hardware may have to be retained and set to "modem mode" to access the internet while your device handles the network.

Whatever type of router you use, security is vital. Firmware updates should be applied when available, the Wi-Fi should be protected, and default passwords should be changed to prevent unauthorised access.

For more information, see our guide to router security.

Wi-Fi boosters

Weak Wi-Fi can drastically impact broadband speed and reliability, so it's vital to ensure you have a strong signal wherever you're working.

If the signal in your home office is weak, it can be easily solved with a Wi-Fi booster. These amplify an existing signal to extend the range. They're inexpensive and straightforward to set up. You will experience some degradation of performance on a boosted signal compared to a direct connection to the router, but it should not be much of a hindrance for typical home use.

Upgrading the router can also noticeably improve Wi-Fi range. Many mid-to-high-end routers offer multiple antennas and various other tricks to provide better speed and signal.

For more help with solving slow Wi-Fi and using signal amplifiers, see our guide to Wi-Fi boosters.

Powerline adapters

Powerline adapters are a clever bit of tech that use your home's electrical circuits as a network. Plug one adapter in next to the router, and add other adapters anywhere on the same circuit (which for many homes will be any other power socket) to extend the network without having to install network cables.

Powerline adapters are an easy and cost-effective method to bring wired networking to your home office. Powerline Wi-Fi boosters are also available to extend wireless coverage.

When purchasing powerline adapters it is best to stick to the same brand and speed, and avoid using them on surge protectors or multi-socket adapters. For further help see our guide to powerline networking.

Homeworking broadband in rural areas

Those of you setting up a home office in an urban or suburban area should have a wide choice of broadband providers and technology. But in rural areas, there may be a more limited selection. Fibre optic broadband might not be available, and even ADSL broadband could be very slow.

If you're finding it tricky to get decent broadband through conventional means, consider these alternatives.

Mobile broadband
4G or 5G mobile broadband can be very fast. It's also portable, which may be helpful if you often travel for work.

But mobile internet is reliant on a strong network signal. Data usage caps may also be relatively low, so you'll either need to be careful about usage and avoid very demanding tasks like large file transfers or accept the cost of additional data.

However, a few providers are offering unlimited mobile broadband deals. There is also a growing number of 4G and 5G home broadband services that are aimed at home use and include more powerful routers and much higher data usage limits.

Here are some of the best mobile broadband deals currently available with very high or unlimited data:

Network Monthly £ Setup £ Data limit Contract Device
Three £23 £9 UNLIMITED 24-mo Huawei E5783B Buy now
Vodafone £32 £35 UNLIMITED 1-mo R219 Wi-Fi hotspot Buy now
EE £50 £0 500GB 18-mo 4GEE Router Buy now

Wi-Fi broadband
A few ISPs deliver broadband to homes and offices with long-range Wi-Fi networking. For the end-user, all that's required is an external antenna connected to a modem.

These can be faster than ADSL, and the cost is often fairly reasonable.

Availability is limited though, as only a handful of companies provide Wi-Fi broadband in a few select locations. You can also experience speed and reliability issues when the weather is poor.

Satellite broadband
If all else fails, there's always satellite internet

So long as you can install a dish with a clear view of the sky, satellite ISPs can deliver reasonable speeds (typically around 30Mb down/6Mb up) to any location in the UK.

But it does have drawbacks. For starters, the installation cost is relatively high. The kit will set you back several hundred pounds (though can be hired for a slightly reduced cost), and you'll need an engineer to set it up if the DIY route seems daunting.

Many packages have a data usage cap too, though some unlimited options are available.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the very high latency (or lag). This will not affect web browsing, email or file transfers but is restrictive for services such as VOIP and video chat, remote desktop access, and online gaming. The new SpaceX Starlink service does offer much lower latency, but at this time availability is limited and the cost is relatively high.

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