Thursday, March 17, 2011

As telecommunications companies bundle services, work from home can become more complicated

Many employers offer work-from-home arrangements which may involve some mix of using equipment or laptop computers offered by the employer, in combination with the worker’s home utility arrangement. Security and compatibility issues may become more complicated.

The most efficient method of online access for an employer to offer now may well be cellular wireless.  A laptop so equipped generally won’t be able to pick up other MiFi or home wireless signals, which may be required for security. If, however, for some reason the cellular service fails, the employer might expect to be able to use the employee’s own cable or broadband, without wireless.  Many providers are converting customers to home wireless networks.  However, I am told that a home wireless router like Netgear may still be plugged in to the Ethernet port on the work laptop, simulating direct cable access without wireless, without disrupting the home Internet connection. 

Many telecommunications companies are offering digital voice phone, which must go through the same modem (for example Arris) that provides Internet access.  (In addition, the modem needs to be hooked up correctly with any home security system with external monitoring, as by ADT.)  Generally, if the employer wants to use old-style “90s” 56-K telephone modem (as used to be used for AOL) as a backup, I’m told that will no longer work. 

Companies like Alpine and LiveOps, which require employees or contractors to provide their own computers,  say that digital voice phones at home are OK, but not Skype.  Some companies say that Voice over Internet Protocol is not acceptable whereas Digital Voice is, which sounds like a contradiction (Wkipedia describes them as the same).  In any case, the employee would have to provide modems compatible with her service.  The employee is required to maintain anti-virus software and at least Windows Firewall.  Some anti-virus packages can be prone to problems that may be beyond the ability of the employee to fix.

Employers using employee computers and Internet connections need to be mindful of requirements to protect customer PII (Personal Identifying Information), which is becoming more complicated with changing legislation or legal requirements, and technological complexity. But employers need to take heed that more telecommunications companies are bundling all services for lower prices, removing redundancies which may have provided more security and alternative operating environments in the past.  For example, a digital phone depends on a modem having power, where as a conventional old phone line doesn’t.

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