Millions of people now work from home on a regular or permanent basis. And whether you’re an employee working remotely or running your own business, there’s a good chance that you’re going to rely heavily on broadband.
This can make choosing a home broadband provider tricker. It might impact your choice of ISP, and you may need to pick up some additional hardware to get the most out of it.
What broadband is best for home working?
Any broadband connection can be used to work from home, but 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 connection fast enough for what you want to do? The right minimum speed is dependant on how the connection is going to be used.
Email and web browsing
These are usually very lightweight activities. The average size of a web page is around 2MB, but many will be smaller. And it’s likely that most of the emails you exchange will be largely text.
Unless you’re frequently sending or receiving large email attachments, an “up to” 17Mb ADSL broadband connection is more than capable of handling email and web sites.
VOIP and video conferencing
Good news if you use Skype or other VOIP 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 (down and upload) for the highest. Other video chat services recommend even more - up to 3Mb for Google Hangouts and Apple Facetime, for example. The bandwidth requirements also increase the more people are involved.
It’s not just download speed you need to consider with video conferencing either. The upload rate is important, and this is where ADSL broadband 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 that should be considered a theoretical speed - in practice it will often be much slower).
Fibre optic broadband is far better suited to video conferencing as this technology can deliver upload speeds up to 20Mb.
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. This might not be an issue if it’s only occasional, but 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.
This may be particularly important if you use cloud storage for file synchronising or backup, as this could involve handling lots of data very frequently.
Usage limits and traffic management
Some broadband connections have a monthly usage limit. We would recommend that home workers avoid any capped service and opt for an unlimited deal whenever possible. Using the 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 an ISPs traffic management policy. Most of the time this will not be a problem as it’s most often used to slow down file sharing, but some ISPs can apply it in other ways. For instance, Virgin Media has a limit on how much you are permitted to upload at certain times of the day.
Check the terms and conditions before signing up to to ensure the traffic management policy is not going to interfere. And for further help read our guide to traffic management.
Sharing the connection
In addition to the above points, you must also consider other users in your home. If the connection is shared among other people during your working hours this will place extra strain on the broadband. While one person might be fine working on an inexpensive ADSL broadband service, the extra demands of other people may mean that fibre optic is required to prevent things crawling to a halt when everyone tries to download files at the same time.
Home working 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.
Just about every broadband 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.
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 completely replace the ISP router, or their hardware may have to be retained and set to “modem mode” to access to the internet while your own 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.
Weak Wi-Fi can drastically impact broadband speed and reliability so it’s important to ensure you have good reception wherever you’re working.
If the signal in your home office is poor it can be easily solved with a Wi-Fi booster. These amplify an existing signal to extend range. They’re inexpensive and very simple to set up. Performance is slightly degraded on a boosted signal, but for typical home use scenarios it should not be much of a hindrance.
Upgrading the router is a good way to improve Wi-Fi range. Many mid-to-high end routers offer multiple antennas and various other tricks to provide better speed and signal. The antennas are usually upgradeable too.
For more help with solving slow Wi-Fi and using signal amplifiers see our guide to Wi-Fi boosters.
Powerline adapters are a clever bit of tech that turn your home’s electrical circuits into a network. Simply plug in one adapter 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 easily 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.
Home working broadband in rural areas
Those of you setting up a home office in a busy 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…
3G or 4G mobile broadband can be very fast - quicker than ADSL and sometimes approaching the speed of entry level fibre. It’s also portable, which may be helpful if you often travel for work.
But mobile internet is very reliant on a strong network signal. Data usage caps are also 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.
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.
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 speeds up to 30Mb down/6Mb up, to any location in the UK.
It does have drawbacks though. For starters, the installation cost is relatively high. The kit will set you back several hundred pounds (though can be hired instead), 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.