2024 Conservative Manifesto Reiterates Existing UK Broadband and 5G Plans

The Conservative Party has today published their own Manifesto for the 4th July 2024 UK General Election, which naturally echoes their existing pledges around fixed line gigabit broadband coverage, as well as their efforts to improve 5G based mobile network coverage across the country.

One of the advantages – or disadvantages (depending upon your perspective) – of being the party of Government is that people often go into a General Election with a better idea of what you’d actually aim to deliver and how. In that sense, the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, can only really repeat the pledges they’ve already made in this area.

NOTE: Ofcom reports that 80% of the UK could already access a gigabit-capable broadband network in Jan 2024 (here), while geographic 4G coverage stands at between 81-88% for all operators. But we don’t yet have a measure for Standalone 5G (SA) coverage, which is a fairly recent enhancement.

The party is currently backing several programmes for improving broadband and mobile. The first is the industry-led £1bn Shared Rural Network project, which aims to boost geographic 4G coverage to 95% of the UK (or 84% for areas where you’ll be able to take it from all operators) by the end of 2025 (part of this is delayed).

In addition, they’ve also set a target for “all populated areas to be covered by ‘standalone’ 5G (5G-plus) [network] by 2030“ (here), although we would have preferred to see a stronger target based on geographic coverage and one that was a bit more binding on the operators.

The final one is their £5bn Project Gigabit programme, which aims to make 1Gbps+ fixed broadband speeds available to at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and to then push that “nationwide” (c.99%) by 2030.

As above, the new Conservative 2024 Manifesto Document (PDF) doesn’t add anything new and makes two related mentions of broadband and mobile policies. The only slight annoyance below is the unnecessary switch in terminology from “high-speed internet” to “gigabit coverage“, which later changes to “high-speed broadband” (just to be clear, they’re all talking about the same thing – gigabit speeds):

➤ “We have transformed our digital infrastructure by rolling out gigabit broadband to over a million hard to reach premises, helping to deliver high-speed internet to over 80% of the country. We are set to achieve at least 85% gigabit coverage of the UK by 2025 and nationwide coverage by 2030. Our ambition is for all populated areas to be covered by ‘standalone’ 5G mobile connectivity and to keep the UK at the forefront of adopting and developing 6G.”

➤ “Over 80% of properties across the country can now access high-speed broadband, up from just 7% in 2019, with a record £714 million committed to boosting rural broadband coverage in 2024. We will invest in new technology to achieve our ambitious broadband targets for hard-to-reach areas.”

At present, the first 2025 pledge (85%) for gigabit broadband under Project Gigabit looks likely to be exceeded. Ofcom currently forecasts that gigabit coverage will reach around 87-91% by May 2025 (here), albeit thanks mostly to commercial builds. But the 2030 goal for “nationwide” (c.99% of the UK) coverage will still be a challenge, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it fell a little short.

By comparison, the party’s targets for 4G and 5G mobile coverage have, in the past, often been a bit of a mixed bag, and it doesn’t help that gauging the progress of mobile coverage remains notoriously difficult due to the highly variable environment for related signals and performance. The SRN shows just how challenging such projects can be, particularly with so many unknowns around planning approvals (i.e. local opposition) and the current delays (here), thus it remains unclear how close the country will get to hitting these mobile targets.

NOTE: Readers should always take political pledges, from any party, with a pinch of salt until there’s more solid detail (something manifestos often lack). We also ask readers who comment on these manifestos to kindly avoid the usual level of toxic and abusive political commentary that sadly sometimes flows from such debates (such comments may not be approved).

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