With instant access to the internet consistently at people’s fingertips, data usage is often taken for granted.
Nothing demonstrated this more clearly than the O2 mobile network outage on December 6th, which left an estimated 32 million customers suffering for almost 24 hours without access to their favourite social media sites, news pages, emails and mobile entertainment and businesses and sole traders relying on connectivity struggling to do business.
Thousands of troubled O2 customers, as well as Sky, Tesco Mobile, GiffGaff and LycaMobile users who share O2’s network, immediately took to Twitter via a WiFi connection to share their panic, confusion and complaints caused by the blackout.
According to the latest Ofcom report, the average person in the UK spends more than a day a week online and checks their phone every 12 minutes. With that in mind, it’s understandable that the recent O2 4G network outage caused millions to plunge into a state of chaos.
In fact, research from broadbandchoices.co.uk found that last month 50% of Brits were worried about connectivity where they were over the festive break, with a dramatic 21% claiming it would ruin Christmas.
The good news if this happens again is that a lot of the services you rely on with your smartphone – from messaging to maps – is usually run via your 3G/4G connection, so there are a few ways to get back online and back in business using Wifi that won’t cost too much. If you are worried about how you would cope with an outage, broadbandchoices’ comms expert Mark Pocock looks at how to get yourself prepared and build up a connectivity bunker:
Invest in a mobile wi-fi hotspot
A mobile Wi-Fi hotspot is a small device that lets you use the internet when you're out and about but is suited to multiple connections across your collection of devices so can get your phone back online with most of the major functions and also power your laptop if the outage has affected your broadband too.
Usually small enough to slip in your bag or pocket, these gadgets connect to mobile broadband - 3G or 4G, the same as the internet on your mobile phone - and emit a Wi-Fi signal that you can hook your laptop, tablet, or smartphone up to.
A personal Wi-Fi hotspot - aka mobile broadband device (mi-fi) is the most common kind of mobile hotspot. You can carry it around with you, and then when you need to get online you can just switch it on and connect your smartphone to its Wi-Fi. It's like bringing a very small router with you, except that router is the size of a thick credit card.
Like a router, you can connect several devices at a time - up to 32 in some cases, so a possibility for those looking to get an office online. Be aware, the download limits can be quite prescribed, so make sure you know what your likely usage is when selecting the right one.
Tether your phone
One of the easiest ways to survive an outage that kills your connection is to tether your phone to someone on another network.
Depending on what kind of handset you own, you will typically be able to use your device as a mobile hotspot, and likewise can get this benefit from others. Think of it like using the phone as a small, portable router.
This trick is also useful if you’re working on your commute, as the signal from a hotspot can be more stable than the on-board options for any laptop or device you want to use in transit.
Check the data policy of whoever you’re paired with first, as data charges outside your contracted amount can be pricey. If you think you’ll be using your device to tether a lot in general then it’s worth picking up a plan with lots of data.
If you’re not within your upgrade period and find your data lacking but you need to use tethering, look at a 30 day rolling sim-only plan that you can activate when you want, typically these come with data from about 4GB for as little as £10, and if you ensure it runs on a different network then it’s a good safety net for service in the event of an outage.
Borrow from the neighbours
If you’re old enough to remember the Nescafe ads, you’ll know about popping next door for a bowl of sugar, well wi-fi is the new sugar. All you need is their WI-FI password and you’re good to go – providing their signal is good enough.
If you’re a small business relying on connections, it might be worth getting to know the neighbouring office in advance, finding out who their provider is, and striking up an agreement that in the event of an outage, you can support each other in keeping your businesses online.
Try your local business
If all else fails, check out the local coffee shops in your area.
With connectivity high on the list of British priorities, modern coffee shops and bars know the value of providing high quality Wi-Fi and the power to plug in your devices so is the perfect site for chilling out to stream your favourite show on your phone, or remote working.
A change of scene can be fantastic for productivity, you’ll be supporting a small business, plus the hot drinks selection is likely to be far superior to the office.
You’re back online – so can you claim for the outage?
Depending on the circumstances, your provider will usually offer compensation after a data outage. The length of time you’ve been without data will likely dictate the amount of compensation you may or may not receive. Heck, if you’ve been without data for a while, you might be entitled leave your contract early.
First, though, visit your providers’ website to find out more about its compliance policy. If, after eight weeks, the problem still isn’t fixed, you can escalate your complaint to an independent Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme (ADR) scheme.
That said, if your provider tells you in advance that the problem can’t be resolved, ask them for a dead-lock letter to show to an ADR scheme before the eight weeks are up.