People value access to the internet more than ever before.

According to Cisco’s latest Broadband Index, a global survey of almost 60 000 workers across 30 countries about their home broadband access, quality and usage, economic and societal growth will not happen without universal access to fast and reliable internet.

Charmaine Houvet, Cisco’s government affairs director, says: “The pandemic has shown us the true value of access. Citizens are increasingly saying that access to Internet must be considered a human right and that governments have a responsibility to ensure that internet access is broadly available.”


Hybrid work depends on quality internet

The success of hybrid work hinges on the quality and availability of the internet adding that 75% of South African workers say broadband services need to dramatically improve to support this new way of working. The Index shows that nine out of 10 workers surveyed in the region say the reliability and quality of broadband connections is important to them.

Almost half of teleworkers globally are planning to upgrade their internet service over the next year, and South Africans are aligned to this plan (53%). 92 % respondents use their broadband at home for four hours or more each day. Meanwhile three or more people use the internet at the same time in 62% of households.

“Secure, high-quality, reliable internet is critical to make hybrid work successful,” says Jonathan Davidson, executive vice-president and GM: mass-scale infrastructure group at Cisco. “We are working closely with our global service provider customers to change the economics of the internet and help them reimagine internet infrastructure to make it better and more accessible to connect more people and businesses who rely on it.”


Critical for small and medium businesses

Nearly half (48%) of the global respondents say they rely on their home internet to work from home or run their own business. In South Africa, this figure is closer to 65% and this need is especially critical for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), that do not have the same resources and IT infrastructure as larger enterprises.

A new digital business environment has emerged where ambitious entrepreneurs and start-ups can prosper, fostering innovation across industries.

According to the World Bank, SMEs represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. In emerging markets, including South Africa, SMEs create seven out of 10 jobs. Broadband will therefore play a key role in the growth and evolution of this core business category.


Security Is vital

In order to work-from-anywhere, employees need to connect to their company’s networks and applications from outside the office, accessing private data across multiple locations, through multiple devices, via public and private networks.

Workers are becoming increasingly aware that safety and security, as well as speed and reliability, will be vital to the success of hybrid working. More than half of people who work remotely full time or hybrid would pay more to ensure they have a safe broadband connection.


Bridging the digital divide

Beyond the business world, improving the quality of access to internet has a far broader impact on the economy and society. Almost 90% respondents believe having access to fast and reliable internet is critical to future economic growth, and a well-educated population.  A similar share (90%) says everyone should be able to securely connect to fast and reliable internet, regardless of location.

“As of today, more than 40% of the world still remains unconnected. The inability to connect those roughly 3.4 billion people over the next 10 years risks widening the digital divide even more,” says Guy Diedrich, senior vice-president and global innovation officer of Cisco. “As business leaders and technologists we must help the rising tide of the digital age lift all ships; time is of the essence.”

Data from the Cisco Broadband Index survey underlines concerns regarding the digital divide: 75% of local respondents say access to affordable and reliable broadband will become a major issue for people, as connectivity becomes even more vital for access to job and educational opportunities. Perhaps more worryingly, 74% say they were unable to access critical services such as online medical appointments, online education, social care and utility services during lockdown, due to an unreliable broadband connection.


Partnering for digital inclusion

The critical need for universal broadband presents a big opportunity for governments and industries to work together and act. 86% of respondents would like to see the South African government accelerate plans to ensure high-speed and reliable internet is available to everyone.

Houvet says: “It is encouraging to read that government will grant access to the Internet as a core utility to every South African. The country has sufficient policies and plans in place so it would be great to see these being implemented to citizens.

“We are encouraged to see proposed reforms from SA that will revolutionise the country’s technological development, making faster broadband accessible to more people; but, more importantly, reducing the cost of digital communications. Employers can support their workforce by adopting the right technology for their hybrid work model. “