Is your Internet service provider making working from home a great experience?

What you need to know:

  • Coronavirus has forced many people who still have their jobs or businesses to work from home.
  • Their output depends to a large extent on the quality of internet they use.
  • Poor quality isn’t just as a result of the customer paying for small bandwidths but also as a result of poor service by the provider.
  • It is therefore high time the communication regulator implemented their proposed guidelines on the minimum quality standards expected form internet service providers.

Covid-19 has forced thousands of corporate workers to work from home by remotely logging into their offices.

Many have suddenly realised that their internet infrastructure maybe sufficient for mundane tasks like reading and responding to emails but hardly adequate to sustain live, interactive video sessions.

If you are hosting a one-hour face-to-face meeting with thirty or more of your office mates, half of them will keep getting thrown out of the virtual meeting room every now and then.

Even for those with a steadier link, their voice signal may keep fading in and out every so often.

Of course the quality of the online video session depends on several factors, including but not limited to bandwidth, packet-loss and latency.

Bandwidth speaks to the capacity you have leased from your service provider, with common sizes ranging from 5mbps, 10mbps, 20mbps and beyond for fixed line services.

The problem for consumers is that they could be subscribing to the premium services of say 20mbps but getting entry level quality of service that could be less than 5mbps.

The other quality parameter is packet-loss which describes the amount of data-loss in a given transmission session. This data loss arises from congestion due to the service provider sharing the available capacity with more than a reasonable number of subscribers.

The link capacity at the home-base may report correctly that you have 10mbps but then at the service providers Core Network, you find that they are squeezing traffic of say 10 subscribers, each with 10mbps over a small channel of 20mbps.

Each of the subscribers is of course paying for their full capacity of 10mbps but effectively getting congested through a small pipe at the service providers switching centre.

The system’s way of handling this is to drop off some packets or messages, causing the home equipment to keep trying to resend several times until it succeed. 

The user may experience this in terms of voice breaking off or your streaming video getting jittery or just hanging.

Finally, latency describes the length of the round-time that exists between the time you put in an internet request on your device to the time you get some feedback.

This could also be influenced by the size of your bandwidth or congestion. However, many a times you find that it is simply due to some lazy engineering by those charged with configuring the routes that the traffic takes through the internet.

One may have a very good and clear highway from Nairobi to Mombasa with very little latency.  However, if the routing instruction given to the truck driver is to get to Mombasa in a ‘zigzag’ fashion this can increase the latency tenfold. 

Imagine going to Mombasa from Nairobi through Thika, then Machakos, back onto the main highway and then branching off into Amboseli, before connecting back to Voi and then into Mombasa

This is exactly how some service providers network routing has been designed to inflict maximum pain to their customers.


Of course one might chose to cry, protest, tweet or visit the service provider offices and they will give you some relief – but only for a week or two before you find yourself quietly relegated back to the same crappy service.

In an open and competitive market like ours, one can chose to vote with their feet and join the rival provider as a solution.

However, if the rival provider is playing the same games, the consumer may find themselves in a perpetual migration mode - that is not beneficial but wasteful in terms of time and missed digital opportunities.

It is therefore high time the communication regulator implemented their proposed guidelines on the minimum quality standards expected form internet service providers.

Without such regulatory intervention, the current ‘work-from-home’ agenda will remain a pipe dream for a good number of employees.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu


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