The COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 led to many more people using the internet at home to complete work, and access vital services remotely. Here’s a handy guide you can share with people who’re getting online at home for the first time.
Why someone might need the internet at home
The COVID-19 lockdowns of 202 and 2021 increased the need to work from home, requiring a reliable internet connection for tasks such as video calls.
Internet access is also needed for many day to day tasks such as booking delivery slots, reserving tables, online shopping, and completing school work. Also many government services are moving online, and some can only be accessed via a browser.
At the same time, there’s reduced access to public internet facilities such as libraries and internet cafes.
There’s an increased risk of social isolation for those without internet access. But it brings plenty of benefits, such as allowing families and friends to stay in touch. There’s also an never ending library of content from services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services to view.
What someone needs to get online
To get online, they will need:
- a computer with a web browser, or smartphone/ tablet – see more about computer, tablet and phone options
- a broadband package or access dongle
There are lots of advantages of having broadband installed in the home:
- it’s widely available – if you have a phone line, you can almost certainly get fixed line broadband
- it’s more reliable and faster than mobile data in most areas
- if there’s optical fibre cable in the street, it’s possible to get very fast broadband speeds
- most packages have unlimited data, whereas mobile data often has a cap
- some packages offer extras such as devices, landline or TV ‘bundles’ all in one monthly bill
Prices found using uswitch.com, prices correct as of 7 December 2020:
There are often deals to get faster speeds for lower prices, so keep an eye on the sites of different providers.
Mobile broadband deals
This uses the same mobile data found on smartphones – 4G in most cases, and 5G is starting to be rolled out across the UK.
It’s important to check local mobile signal strength, and Ofcom has a good tool for this. If the user has internet access already, it’s worth them asking in local community forums (for example Facebook Groups) about the best local provider.
Advantages of mobile broadband
The advantages of mobile broadband include:
- portability – can take your dongle/hotspot anywhere where it can be plugged in. Can be taken between different locations
- often easier in rural areas where getting a reliable fixed broadband line can be tricky
- more flexible contracts – some offer monthly or pay as you go, whereas fixed line broadband is usually on at least a 12 month contract
We’ve previously used these two devices:
- Vodafone K5161 Data Dongle – small device that plugs into a USB port
- Vodafone R219 mobile wifi router – slightly larger device that broadcasts a wifi signal for up to 10 devices at a time. Also has a built-in battery for extra portability
Both have an advertised download speed of 10Mb, and prices vary from £11 to £20 per month depending on the contract length and any upfront payment.
Prices were found using moneysupermarket.com, and are correct as of 7 December 2020.
Preloaded mobile data
Most mobile broadband is expected to work on a monthly basis and the data usually expires 30 days after being activated. This is problematic if you’re thinking about running a project to allow people to try out internet connectivity on a simple basis.
One or two providers offer an alternative in the form of mobile SIM cards preloaded with data that has a longer expiry date. The two most readily available are Three and EE (Everything Everywhere).
They have various options and the data can be topped up later if needed. There is no contract or renewing obligation on these pre-loaded SIMs.
It should be noted, though, that sometimes it can be difficult to buy multiple SIM cards in a single transaction on line. This is because of the role unregistered mobile phone numbers can have in criminal activity. If you’re planning a project along these lines, allow a little time to make contact with mobile providers to discuss needs in detail.
These are most commonly given in ‘MB’ (should be MBps, megabits per second).
The headline figure given refers to download speed (how quickly the data transfers to you), but there is also an upload speed (how quickly you can send information to the wider internet) which will often be slower.
Most online streaming services recommend a connection of at least 2-4MB to watch HD video – the faster your connection, the faster your internet should be.
The figures advertised are an average, and your connection and location may mean it is different. However, large providers have signed up to Ofcom’s broadband speeds code of practice which includes a minimum speed guarantee.
If the connection is slower than advertised and the service provider does not fix it within 30 days, they must offer the right to exit your contract without penalty.
Your users might be on a limited data plan, so here’s a rule of thumb about data use.
The following figures based on confused.com’s mobile data usage calculator and will vary depending on real world usage.
1GB of data would allow for one of:
- a 4 hour Skype chat
- 10 episodes of a 30 minute TV show
- 256 tracks on Spotify
GB means gigabytes, and 1GB = 1000MB.