Connectivity needs to be a core part of your campaign. After all, there’s little point in having an internet ready device if you can’t access the internet!
We’ve identified the four best options for delivering connectivity to community recipients. By the end of this step, you’ll be able to choose between:
- Mobile data
- Mobile/WiFi dongle
- Free public networks (e.g. libraries or public WiFi)
Why it’s important
Many vulnerable recipients won’t have any form of internet access available to them other than free public networks, such as those at libraries. This means that recipients with mobility issues can find it really difficult to get online.
Cost is also a barrier for many potential recipients. Sir Peter Estlin, the chair of FutureDotNow, highlighted the dilemma facing those in hardship in a hard-hitting DevicesDotNow report, stating, "We’ve heard many appalling stories of too many people faced with the choice of buying data or food.”
Telcos are able to offer short-term support to people who cannot afford connectivity. Partnering with a telco can be a low-cost way to ensure your recipients have access to data, no matter what their situation is.
One of our contributors partnered with a telco to ensure its users had connectivity.
We help you look at ways to get communities online in the short-term. Eventually, your recipients will need a longer-term solution. Various charities and organisations, including Good Things Foundation, are working with the government and telcos to find solutions.
Different connectivity options
Option 1. Mobile data (PAYG)
Providing a SIM card and a data package is an easy way to get mobile phone users online. You can ask a telco to provide a SIM-only package for a set period.
One of our partner schemes offered free internet and data for six months to new users. At the end of six months, a reminder was sent so users could switch to PAYG.
Another of our partner schemes worked with their local council to issue PAYG contracts in the form of supermarket vouchers.
- Easy to set up
- Flexible with the ability to customise tariff based on budget
- No long-term contracts/tie-ins
- Limited data allowances (with a cost if exceeded – although you can ask the telco to put a bar on to prevent additional charges)
- Dependent on a telco partnership (if you want to offer a free SIM and free data)
Option 2. Broadband
Installing a broadband connection provides fast and stable internet access. It allows a device’s new owner to share connectivity with other members of their household.
There are low cost/social tariffs for broadband, e.g. BT Basic+ Broadband which costs £10.07/month for recipients on certain benefits. It includes BT Basic line rental, Virus Protect and Parental Control plus access to over five million public wireless hotspots.
- Fast internet speeds (although these can be limited)
- Stable connections
- Ability to customise tariff to suit predicted data needs
- Higher cost
- Fixed location
- Often requires a long-term contract and a credit check which could cause problems for some recipients
- Long set-up times and a difficult installation process (so telcos are less willing to offer this)
Option 3. Mobile/WiFi dongle
A dongle is a small device which plugs into a USB port to give access via a signal (3G,4G or 5G).
- New owners can connect from anywhere
- They can be PAYG (telcos are willing to offer this)
- Devices must have a spare USB port
- Poor coverage in rural areas
Option 4. Free public networks
Recipients can connect to free WiFi such as BT Wi-Fi or WiFi networks provided in libraries, cafés and other public spaces.
During lockdown, BT, in partnership with DfE, opened up millions of BT Wi-Fi hotspots to the most in-need children in England. These provided access to online schooling and learning resources using a voucher-code system.
- Widely available in urban areas
- Often only available in public spaces
- Insecure compared to private networks (not suitable for sending banking and other personal data)
- Poor availability in rural areas
Things to think about
You may be able to access support to keep your costs down. Who could you approach?
The device type may dictate the type of connectivity. Most smartphones don’t have a USB socket so can’t use dongles.
What’s the right type of connectivity for your proposed recipients? If they are housebound, then broadband is a great choice. If they’re out and about, an alternative may meet their needs more effectively. Don’t forget that children are likely to need a larger data allowance if they will be watching videos as part of their online learning.
Sometimes fraudsters build fake WiFi hotspots that look like public WiFi in order to steal users’ credentials. Your users will therefore need guidance on how to keep themselves safe when using public WiFi. You’ll find a list of sites which offer free online training in the resources section.