The Benefits of Working From Home
Working at home to make your living used to be something most American workers thought of as novel. When I was a teen, stuffing envelopes was touted in magazine classified ads as the way to achieve the “work-at-home lifestyle.”
The perks of working from home have since spawned many specialty careers and businesses. As the computer and subsequent development of the internet revolutionized home-based businesses it has since made the value of remote-from-home employees a consideration in many business models.
In a 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review, the authors noted that 43% of American workers had spent some time working remotely and a little over 5% of workers worked solely from their homes. In the last 5 years work at-home has increased at least 44% according to gig work outlet FlexJobs. In 2020, Gallup Research confirmed the efficacy of the trend by reporting research outcomes showing that remote workers are more productive, produce better outcomes, and that the practice helps businesses attract better talent.
In contrast, a 2018 FCC report stated that just over a third of rural American homes did not have access to high speed internet, leaving many rural workers and their employers unable to reap the advantages of working from home. For those who live out away from the rural towns and hamlets, internet was once limited to slow satellite connections.
However, 4G LTEs robust internet access has expanded to include many web-impoverished rural citizens. Today, in some of the most rural areas, cellular providers have given consumers an alternative to satellite internet and created data plans that can meet the demands of their work as well as satisfy their family’s internet needs.
Rural workers save more money and time than their urban counterparts by avoiding longer commutes. Lower transportation and maintenance costs are assured, and telecommuters also enjoy a reduction of insurance premiums and other ancillary costs.
A recent WebMD article proposed that there are also health benefits to working at home. Telecommuters report lower anxiety and stress, better memory and concentration, and less chronic health problems than those who trek to work every day. Home-based workers are also more likely to engage in healthy activities because there is more time available and their relationships benefit from finding more time to engage in fulfilling pursuits with friends and loved ones.
While these and other benefits make the allure of working from home compelling, the proposition can present challenges for those who need internet but live in a hard place to get it.
Rural Internet Challenges
Location can be an insurmountable barrier to high-speed internet. Living away from the cities, freeways, and highways of America can still mean poor cellular coverage. For some, the prospect is close to impossible and/or unaffordable. Some remote locations are not within the working distance of 4G LTE.
If you are separated from useful service by some physical obstacle like terrain, then distance is unlikely to matter. For these locations, infrastructure is needed to achieve internet service. Since ISPs would only get a limited number of customers and face high costs, it is unlikely to happen.
Most moderate terrain and distance issues with cellular towers can be resolved for somewhere between $40 and $1,000 depending upon the condition one is trying to overcome. Antennae, signal boosters, repeaters, and the like, can solve a lot of issues. A good service tech can look at a cell tower map and a satellite photo of your area and give you some good tips for improving your signal.
A good cheap test anyone can do is to use a cellphone to test cellular signals. If the phone gets good coverage at your home, then it is likely their data plan will be a good rural internet option as well. Be sure to try it from a safe spot that is up high and from different spots on the property. There is also help from the industry.
Internet service providers like T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon have been investing in lower frequency bands to cover rural areas. The lower frequency bands cover greater distances and work around obstacles better than the higher frequency bands used in the cities. Buying current equipment that can utilize these bands is essential in the quest for good quality 4G LTE data service. A knowledgeable provider can steer you to these products.
Once you have a signal, the next challenge for the rural user is how much data can you get and at what speed will it come.
Determine Your Internet Speed and Data Consumption Needs
Ask yourself, “What do I need to do on the internet for my business?” Having a ballpark estimate of activities is the basis for all your internet planning and purchases. Figure out which tasks need to happen concurrently and how often you will need to perform them.
Do you need to work on the same network where family members may be streaming video, homeschooling, or working other jobs? Will you be utilizing business systems that manage and integrate multiple applications simultaneously?
For example, you might need to be able to attend online video conferences, answer and send emails, help facilitate retail and/or social media pages, chat with customers, and more. There is a data measurement by piece or time for most activities from reliable internet sources. With a reasonably accurate picture of your monthly data needs, you can ensure that you and your internet are ready to work.
Once you have a good estimate of the amount of data you need, you need to estimate your required bandwidth, meaning the speed by which you can transmit the data you are using.
Bandwidth is the gatekeeper of data flow. Imagine I offered you a swimming pool full of Champagne for a party for you and 50 of your closest friends. That seems like more champagne than you could possibly need, right? But suppose the only access to the Champagne was through a very small pipe the size of a ball point pen. Your party would be a bust because it would take forever to get everyone one small glass for the first toast. Like the ability to meet your guest’s needs and expectations for Champagne, internet usage is dependent upon the speed of its delivery to provide a given amount for use in your home.
There is an abundance of tools available on the web for measuring internet speed. If there are multiple users or applications running, each one uses a part of the internet speed that is available.
One user streaming a 720p hd movie will need about 2Mbps of upload speed, a 1080p movie will need about 3.5 Mbps. So, if Mom and Dad are watching a movie and 2 Kids are each watching a movie in 720p, you will need 7-8 Mbps of minimum upload speed to avoid buffering. Each device you add to the network makes demands on your speed when operating.
Even Unlimited Data Has Limits
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have limits on the data they can provide. While they can provide a lot, there are times when they have trouble meeting the demand. Now, you will find several unlimited cellular data plans available in the marketplace but know that “Unlimited” in the high-speed data world whether it is cellular, cable, DSL, or satellite is not unlimited in the sense that you can use Terabytes (that’s a lot) of data each month without paying for “excessive” usage.
Because, like the Champagne pipe, there are demands and restraints that are imposed by the hardware and the users on your home network, as well as by the providers and the infrastructure where your home network connects to access the web.
There are two types of data limits found in 4GLTE data plans. They impose soft cap thresholds after which deprioritization can occur and hard cap limits where speed throttling or overage charges begin.
A hard cap is typically found on plans with a stated limit like the 2- 50 GBs. These plans are commonly offered by all the big ISPs. On those plans, when you hit the hard cap data limit, you are typically throttled down to 3G or 2G speeds as low as 500 Kbps until your plan renews at the start of your next service month. Some plans will let you pay overage fees to remain connected to 4GLTE speeds beyond the hard cap, but those costs can be staggering. Soft caps are limits that once reached, can cause the user to be temporarily deprioritized during peak usage to manage tower congestion. These are typically in the 20-50 GB range.
The average family of four uses around 225 GB of data per month, so if the average family uses a busy tower, they likely experience periodic deprioritization.
Even the plans with no hard caps do not guarantee you a bottomless cup of internet. Many ISPs will throttle or limit users they label as abusers. They will sanction users for questionable downloading (e.g. Piracy) and abusive data usage. So, a customer using 4-1,000 Gbps per month on a busy tower may get a warning from their ISP that they are using too much data. If your tower is never congested this may never happen.
Deprioritization is a reality of all data plans. The ISPs must prioritize voice and messaging over data. If a tower becomes congested, data speeds can be temporarily slowed down until the tower is no longer congested.
DSL and Cable providers do the same thing.
This is more likely in urban areas, but recent increases in usage have seen some rural towers experiencing temporary congestion. Living in a moderately large urban area, I experience a slowdown each workday from about 4-6pm because people are calling home. It’s not so bad that I can’t use the internet or have the news or music on, but we probably couldn’t run all 4 TVs at the same time without buffering and it is usually over by the time everyone shows up for dinner!
There are also several ways you can avoid, or greatly lessen, the impact of over usage and/or deprioritization.
Use Your Data Wisely
If one lives alone, an internet hotspot with a good signal will likely perform all the work and personal tasks you ask of it without much worry. If you have a family, then you and your work may have to compete for bandwidth.
A router that allows you to prioritize, schedule, and otherwise manage the devices on your home network can be quite useful. Choosing equipment that conserves bandwidth is a wise move one can easily make up front to get the most out of your available internet resources.
For example, security cameras have a big impact on a home network if they are constantly on. Instead, use the motion detection type, with only as much resolution as needed for the job.
Spending a little more time researching and a little more money for some devices can really pay off in the performance of your internet investment.
Reducing Data Usage
Do you fall asleep with the TV on or just listen to the TV for company? Try using the tv timer to eliminate using data in your sleep or lowering the video resolution when you are not watching.
Don’t watch movies in 1080p that don’t benefit from it. Many actors and actresses refuse to be shown at more than 720p because 1080p can show too much. If the show isn’t about stunning visual experience, 720 is plenty HD for most of us.
Turn off computers and devices when they are not in use and close apps when you are done with them. It’s good for most devices to restart. Diagnostics and repairs functions are often tied to power recycles.
Using A Dedicated Internet Hotspot Connection For Business
Consider separating your personal and business internet into dedicated connections. This makes your business line more reliable, and easier to use as a tax write off. Many are now setting up separate plans and networks for home schooling, work, and personal use.
If you are working for an employer, negotiate the dedicated hotspot as part of the job plan. If your employer doesn’t offer, point out the tax, privacy, and control benefits of providing you a dedicated business line.
If a dedicated internet access is not in the cards, you can just build a more robust shared network. One can buy modem/routers that use multiple sim cards. The modem works faster by integrating the multiple lines, effectively doubling or tripling the data and speed.
I read about a remote ranch in Utah that has put 8 Yurts on a quiet corner of their property. They put in modems that hold multiple sims from up to 3 different providers. The modems feed into a load balancing switch that optimizes bandwidth by integrating all the sim cards into a single network.
They are now frequented by remote workers seeking great places with great bandwidth. These are the newest set of workers who are expanding their work-at-home lifestyle into a work from anywhere scenario.