Talk Talk Business

Connecting business in a post-Covid world

21 July 2020 | Melanie Mingas

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As many begin to emerge from months of lockdown, businesses across the spectrum are designing a “new normal” for their operations, one where traditional full-time office working is a thing of the past.

For the connectivity providers to these businesses – who themselves have seen their own share of challenges over recent months – that poses a whole new set of trials.

TalkTalk Business anticipates that, despite the easing of lockdowns in the UK, the new normal will be a far cry from the old normal, and that six to eight million people will continue to work from home on a near permanent basis.

The implications for network operators and internet service providers alike, will be huge.

“We think that’s such a dramatic shift,” says MD Jonathan Kini.

“The needs of those employees and the work they are being asked to do from home, really wakes you up to the fact that our new Homeworker package is not just for today, it’s actually something that we see will grow and grow,” he adds.

TTB’s B2B Homeworker Package launched last month, marking a return to the traditional two lines for two tasks model, but with the added twist of the employer footing the bill over the employee.

The package is advertised as providing speeds from 76mbps to 1gb through a range of connectivity options, from superfast fibre (up to 76mbps) to ultrafast (up to 1gb) dedicated internet, with the option of a fibre or ethernet line.

“What we have seen is massive interest from enterprise grade customers, thinking how they ensure quality of service to their customers through the bandwidth of their employees.

“There is obviously the upgrading of better fibre connectivity where it is possible, where you can get FTTP and for the really sort of larger businesses, dealing with the not spots where people don’t have great connectivity. Even with business grade connectivity, like leased line, a mix of products is a very sensible idea,” Kini says.

Connecting the decentralised workforce

TTB’s six to eight million figure is based on a series of projections from multiple sources, which all pointed to a steep rise in homeworking long before Covid-19 was on anybody’s radar.

Between 2014 and 2019 the number of occasional home workers increased 25% according to ONS figures analysed by CPID, the UK’s professional HR body.

With this as a baseline, TTB says it can make a “conservative assumption” that there will be a 20% increase in UK workers working from home multiple days a week post-lockdown.

However, others peg the figure a little higher – some smaller studies at as much as 53% – while a recent Gartner survey of CFO sentiment revealed that 74% expect to move previously on-site employees to remote working, post-Covid.

This new, blended set-up will see the office used much more like a university library – a place for collaborative work, while individual tasks are completed off site. It’s a trend TTB has already started to adopt for its own offices, with certain departments allocated certain days.

“We like to think that we are drinking our own champagne on this,” Kini says.

Levelling up

Such decentralisation demands high quality access points in many locations and, as many have noted over recent months, this raises a whole new set of challenges.

As far back as April, independent connectivity providers warned of a growing digital divide and John Trower, chair of Commsworld, said in June that lockdowns had highlighted not only a “lack of equitable growth in UK tech”, but a glaring disparity in the quality of connections across the country.

It isn’t just the UK that has seen digital inequality as a result of a global health emergency. Similar observations have been relayed from South America. There the Telecoms Advisory Service has warned of “significant negative impact” if the reductions in network speed and quality seen during Covid-19 lockdowns become a permanent fixture.

Working for a service provider based outside of London, Kini has seen firsthand the benefits that better connectivity can bring to local and national economies. “We’re very supportive of the levelling up opportunities that fibre can offer,” he says.

“We are confident we can offer that connectivity from a speed perspective, but also a service perspective,” he adds.

When it comes to infrastructure, TTB is no stranger to multi-million pound investments. It operates one of Britain’s largest Next Generation Networks with 95% coverage and more than 3,000 enabled exchanges, and in November relaunched its Ethernet over fibre-to-the-cabinet (EoFTTC) service.

Faced with the initial shock of lockdown usage trends – TTB noted a 40% increase in demand for data during the initial Covid-19 outbreak – Kini says the network “handled the change in usage remarkably well”.

“We are very pleased with the stats that we demonstrated during that period. Some of the peaks on the network that we saw have allowed us to massively deliver great connectivity for people using their business and entertainment time,” he adds.

However, as many others have observed, such usage spikes have only heightened the ongoing need for continued infrastructure investments, including fibre to the home and businesses.

“Our strategy doesn’t change; we are absolutely focused on our role throughout. The work we are doing on our network to get ready for FTTP has accelerated where we think demand is going to come from.

“We are massively supportive of the government’s drive to get all homes and businesses in the UK connected to higher bandwidth. It becomes more clear when you are working from home that upload and download speeds are just as important and that’s what fibre can deliver brilliantly,” Kini says.