Bullish BT dismisses fears of WFH broadband meltdown

working from home2With millions of workers now being advised to work from home, BT has dismissed concerns that its broadband network will buckle under the strain, claiming it has “more than enough capacity” to handle mass-scale home-working in response to Covid-19.

The bullish response follows reports from Spain, where the telecoms sector has warned of a “traffic explosion” on networks since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Telefónica, which owns O2 in the UK, reports that Spaniards are using 40% more data during the day as families are forced into lockdown. Mobile data has jumped 50%, and WhatsApp use has increased fivefold, it added.

The firm has joined forces with Orange and Vodafone to urge customers to reduce their Internet usage during peak hours to ensure that people working from home are not affected.

The three companies advised downloading large documents during off-peak hours, compressing files, avoiding large emails, and using landlines where possible.

Spain’s full-fibre broadband network covers 75% of homes in the country, compared to the UK market, where the full-fibre network only covers 8% of homes. According to Ofcom, the UK network is still largely run on copper lines for broadband connections.

BT Group chief technology and information officer Howard Watson said: “We have more than enough capacity in our UK broadband network to handle mass-scale home-working in response to Covid-19.

“Our network is built to accommodate evening peak network capacity, which is driven by data-heavy things like video streaming and game downloads, for example. By comparison, data requirements for work-related applications like video calls and daytime email traffic represent a fraction of this.

“Even if the same heavy data traffic that we see each evening were to run throughout the daytime, there is still enough capacity for work-applications to run simultaneously.”

Even so, many people living in rural communities will no doubt scoff at such comments. Last summer, UK think tank Parliament Street warned how a historic lack of investment and chronic connectivity problems meant that too many rural areas were still facing slow broadband, less bandwidth, and problematic mobile and TV reception.

At present around 96% of UK premises are estimated to be within reach of a fixed “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) ISP connection. Ofcom also states that the outdoor geographic coverage of 4G services across the UK is still low at 67% from all four mobile operators or around 91% from at least one operator (EE).

However, remote rural locations are often last on the list for upgrades, which is due to the economic challenges inherent with building expensive new networks to cater for so few users over a wide area. In response the think-tank urged the Government to tackle such “forgotten and neglected” areas.

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