Naomi Hodges, cybersecurity advisor at Surfshark, highlights the need for stronger internet infrastructure and better management of networks
The coronavirus outbreak has caused unprecedented disruption in more ways than many of us imagined, and there’s no doubt that it will change the way we live our lives in the future. One sector which has had an impact is technology, and in particular, the internet.
Telecommunication firms are under huge pressure at the moment to keep internet and broadband connections stable so that the world can stay connected as it battles through the coronavirus pandemic. The government’s ‘stay at home’ order has forced organisations to accelerate their digital transformation strategies, setting up company-wide remote workforces that rely on local connections and data centres. This has already caused internet speeds to drop significantly and overwhelmed networks have been causing productivity issues and disruption to our new digital-heavy lives.
For some of us in the UK, the lack of internet and broadband connections has always been a problem. Recent studies claim that as much as a third of UK constituencies receive little or no broadband at all, posing the question of how remote workers and people living in those areas can continue to be productive and connected?
How the internet works – the office vs the home
When employees connect to the internet in the office, they connect to one network, sharing the same public IP address. These corporate networks are likely to be highly advanced, especially if based in major cities like London where the internet infrastructure is complex and there are hundreds of data centres and servers to process the necessary protocols that keep us going.
Now compare this to a home connection. Household connections are based on things like the broadband package households choose, location, and where the nearest data centre might. And all these factors can affect our internet speed. Couple that with multiple devices trying to access the same router and the server becomes overloaded meaning that we experience slower connections. This is particularly prominent if we are taking part in activities on the internet that require more bandwidth, for example, online gaming and video conferencing.
So now that we’re all working from home and staying inside, you can imagine how home connections might be a problem if households need to access the internet for multiple things all at the same time. Home connections are also at risk of security breaches and hacks. The vast majority of companies have strict cybersecurity routines implemented by in-house IT managers and offices will usually enforce security and privacy on a network level. Since it gets complicated to replicate this procedure when working remotely, lots of people are becoming especially susceptible to cyberthreats.
But this has been a problem for a long time…
According to Surfshark’s global 2019 study on our Digital Quality of Life, the UK only ranks 31st for broadband speed and 37th for mobile speeds, with average connectivity speeds of 56Mb/s and 30Mb/s respectively. The speeds of the UK’s mobile internet are similar to countries with average Digital Quality of Life results and lower GDP, such as Azerbaijan and Iran.
The study which ranked a country’s Digital Quality of Life based on six critical criteria, including internet affordability, cybersecurity and global content access, suggests that the coronavirus has only heightened the UK’s internet problem. With over half of the world’s population using the internet, our digital wellbeing is important and has a profound impact on people’s physical lives too. And with social distancing measure likely to stick around for a while, our digital quality of life is even more crucial.
Better infrastructure equals better digital wellbeing
One of the main factors that directly contributes to our Digital Quality of Life is well-developed internet infrastructure, along with other less tangible factors such as cybersecurity and personal data protection. However, a ‘well-developed’ infrastructure isn’t as simple as we might think.
For one, heavy investment is required. Countries with lower GDPs per capita may find it difficult to find the investment and priorities might be focussed elsewhere. Then there’s the extensive human resources that are also required so that networks can be maintained and managed. Providing access also requires investment on a regional level, relying on local authorities and resources and finally, and most obviously, individuals need the technology to gain online access, such as a computer or an internet-enabled smartphone.
That said, just because a country as a lower GDP, doesn’t mean it’s not impossible. Places like Thailand, China, Malaysia, Romania and Hungary have lower GDPs per capita, but according to the report their broadband speeds are above the global median value. This indicates better adoption of innovative technologies and development of digital infrastructure, which plays a key role in the economic development of various Asian countries.
So where is the UK going wrong if we’re considered a well-developed country? Ultimately it comes down a number of factors. Most importantly, it’s the regional areas, where many of the broadband not-spots are, that need significant improvement in order to boost the UK’s overall internet strength.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a wake-up call for telecommunications and broadband providers who have had to quickly deal with the sudden changes in the way we access the internet. But for many organisations and individuals’, this wake-up call is long needed.
The internet has become a huge part of our lives. In the current situation, it has become the epicentre for productivity for businesses and a lifeline for individuals to stay connected whilst social distancing. During these times our physical wellbeing is just as important as our digital wellbeing and the UK must focus on both in order to get us through.
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