UK broadband providers including BT and Sky insist they will be able to support millions of people working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, despite experts previously warning that the networks ‘won’t cope’ with the extra traffic.
The UK government has predicted up to a fifth of the UK’s workforce could be sick during the coronavirus peak, with more than 20 million people working from home.
Many companies have implemented a mandatory work-from-home policy as a precaution against the illness, which has killed more than 4,600 people worldwide.
But experts have warned that home broadband is not set up to cope with the demands of mass internet trading and video conference calls.
US network providers Comcast and AT&T have this week announced measures to provide cheaper internet for customers, including suppressing data caps – limits of usage on a particular package that, if surpassed, can lead to added costs.
UK broadband providers have not announced similar financial measures because they say their customers are not bound by data caps, but they are taking steps to prepare for the added demand from those working from home.
‘We hope and expect British based companies will be thinking about what steps they can take to support their customers, many of whom will be thinking about how the situation could impact their families in the coming months,’ Ru Bhikha, mobile expert at Uswitch, told MailOnline.
The added strain of remote access, video conferencing and the use of VPNs could cause some difficulties for the internet’s infrastructure
Sky says it has ‘the right people working hard to fix this’. Problems reportedly started at around 06:00 GMT
Sky said its live broadband packages are all unlimited so there are ‘no data caps to lift’.
‘As a responsible business, we’re making plans for all eventualities in a rapidly evolving situation,’ a spokesperson told MailOnline.
‘The network itself is pretty resilient and there are no murmurings that there could be anything wrong with that if working from home were to increase,’ he said.
‘There’s probably not too much to worry about – all the broadband packages are unlimited and there’s no cap that needs to be increased.’
In terms of mobile, Sky is not looking at any additional measures, but Sky packages already allow customers to roll their data allowance into a ‘piggybank’ for later use.
Sky customers can also access certain Sky apps without eating into any of their data such as Sky News and Sky Sports – although these probably won’t help too much with getting work done.
BT said it’s confident that the UK’s broadband network could handle mass-scale home-working
BT says that across the whole of the UK network currently deals with far higher traffic between the hours of 6pm and 10pm.
The volume is around 10 times as much data as it handles during a normal working day – partly driven by viewing figures of Netflix and other streaming services as users settle in to a viewing binge after work.
This peak capacity shows that the company’s broadband network is built to withstand a fifth of the country’s workforce working at home, it says.
‘BT’s networks are built to support “evening peak” network capacity, which generally equates to at least ten times daytime (working hours) demand, driven by streaming video, sports content for example,’ a spokesman told MailOnline.
‘As a result, we’re confident that the UK’s broadband network could handle mass-scale home-working in response to COVID-19.’
BT said this position applies to all BT consumer brands – BT, EE and Plusnet.
The company’s CEO this week tested positive for COVID-19 just days after attending an industry event where other telco bosses were present on Monday.
He is now self isolating and working from home, as are the bosses of Three, O2 and Vodafone who were also at the event – the launch of the Shared Rural Network – according to reports.
After a data breach last week, Virgin Media said it ‘has enough on our plate with coronavirus at the moment’
Virgin Media said it is ‘well prepared’ for people and customers to work from home.
‘Currently we have not seen any significant network traffic spikes but our network is built to withstand evening and weekend peaks when our customers use their broadband most intensively,’ a spokesperson told MailOnline.
‘As such, any usage increase seen in the daytime, caused by more people working from home, for example, will be catered for from our existing network capacity.
‘We are continually investing in our network so are ready to make any necessary changes if they are needed.’
The company is reeling from a data breach that exposed nearly 1 million customers’ personal information online.
Addressing the breach last week, Virgin Media CEO Lutz Schuler said: ‘We all have enough on our plate with coronavirus at the moment but we have to be open about it.’
TalkTalk said all of its internet packages provide unlimited data, so its customers can already access as much data as they need.
O2 plans to launch in Windsor, Eton, Reading, Blackpool, Bournemouth, and Guildford from March 2020
O2 told MailOnline that it will announce interim measures to support its customers during the outbreak.
The company said in a statement: ‘Our network stands ready to support the increased number of people working at home through mobile technology.
‘We have invested over £2 million a day to make sure it’s as robust as possible and is currently managing demand without issue.’
O2 said its network is designed to ‘self-optimise’ – which means that it automatically switches on masts to direct traffic to areas that need it.
Vodafone and BT are expected to call for Boris Johnson to allow Chinese firm Huawei to have involvement in Britain’s 5G mobile phone network
Vodafone says it is giving all its mobile customers, including VOXI and TalkMobile customers, free access to NHS UK online, including NHS England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales websites.
This means its mobile customers can get health information updates at no additional cost.
‘Access to reliable health information has never been more crucial,’ the company said in a blog post.
‘Vodafone customers are already using our unlimited data plans, we want all our customers to be able to access these NHS online services without having to worry about data charges.
‘Free access to these services will be available for as long as the coronavirus (COVID-19) remains prevalent in the UK.’
European operator Orange told MailOnline it is ‘acutely aware’ of its responsibility of providing continuous connectivity especially in times of crisis.
‘In addition, we continually monitor and measure network activity and can more than sufficiently adjust our capacity to meet demand,’ a spokesperson said.
‘To this end, across our operations we are endeavouring to provide affordable and continuous access to all through a range of measures tailored to each market, according to their needs.’
In Poland it’s giving customers a 10GB data package and some TV channels for free.
In Spain it’s offering families 30GB of data free to its customers on one of its plans for a month, and for certain Spanish businesses it is offering 50GB free for a month.