One of the broadband products that quietly emerged during the pandemic is a suite of products that enable corporate broadband to safely be used at home. IT Directors of large companies were aghast when a large percentage of staff were sent home to work and instantly wanted full access to the same systems and functionality that they used in the office.
One of the key linchpins of corporate data security has always been to limit access to corporate networks from outside the physical confines of the office. Corporations have always had employees working remotely while out of the office sick or on travel. But remote employees were usually given limited access and often didn’t get full access to sensitive databases and systems. But suddenly, everybody from the CEO down to the lowest-level office workers needed access to the systems that they had been using in the office every day. Employees wanted access to everyday proprietary systems, collaboration software, unified messaging, and everything that let them operate as if they were in the office. This was a nightmare scenario for IT departments that were tasked with protecting proprietary corporate data while somehow opening the portals for large numbers of remote works.
Some of the largest ISPs eventually stepped in to put the IT departments at ease with a suite of products that added the needed access security so that remote users were fully verified to be a real employee and not a hacker. The first thing these products offered was a broadband connection controlled by the company, not by the employee. These new connections were intended to be separate from an employee’s existing home broadband to create a clear demarcation between corporate data and personal data.
I may not remember these in the right order, but the earliest such products I can recall after the onset of the pandemic were from AT&T and Comcast. The AT&T Home Office Connectivity product was only available in homes connected to any AT&T broadband product, but touted fiber connections as the best. This was a challenging sale to companies due to the hit-and-miss deployment of AT&T fiber that has been deployed in small neighborhood clusters rather than citywide. The original AT&T product offered speeds up to a gigabit, static IP addresses, and priority customer care for employees. These first products let a company have some control over the type of home connection being used to access corporate systems. Over time, AT&T rolled out the kinds of features that IT departments wanted – multilayer safe logins, compatibility with SD-WAN, encrypted transmissions, deep packet inspection, and a secondary connection on cellular if the primary link fails.
The Comcast Business at Home product was similar, but with the ability to offer relatively fast speeds in any Comcast market on the coaxial/fiber networks.
Over time, these products have gotten more sophisticated. Some of the products today offer redundant connections from home to multiple cloud data centers. The latest versions of corporate-at-home connections offer a suite of collaboration tools that are more sophisticated than what an employee might have been using at work.
As might be expected, corporate-quality connections are considerably more expensive than normal home broadband and are nearer in cost to broadband products sold to sophisticated small businesses like law firms.
It seems likely that these products are here to stay since a lot of workers are never going back to the office. The latest reports I’ve seen about downtown business occupancy show that most downtown business districts are barely back to 50% of the number of daily workers pre-pandemic. While we hear of the occasional large company that is forcing people back to the office, there are far more quiet examples where companies have decided that remote employees are going to be permanent. Companies are realizing the benefits that come from the ability to attract the best employees from anywhere and the expansion of the business from having employees in all time zones. Younger workers are demanding the ability to work at home at least part-time as a condition for taking jobs.
I would expect over time there will arise an industry selling suites of these products that are not associated with an ISP. Just as the VoIP industry grew outside of telephone companies, it’s not hard to imagine companies springing up that specialize in the software needed to create the safest and most seamless corporate broadband connection at home.