Telecoms expert responds to Conservative Party manifesto broadband and mobile pledges
14 April 2015 : Dan Howdle, telecoms expert and editor-in-chief of broadband, TV and mobile comparison site Cable.co.uk addresses the various pledges in the Conservative Party manifesto released today
We will provide rural Britain with near universal superfast broadband by the end of the next Parliament and secure the future of 3,000 rural Post Offices.
"Labour's impracticable pledge to provide every home in the UK with 'affordable, high-speed broadband for all' by 2020 appears to have had some influence. The Conservatives are – far more wisely – eschewing one-upmanship in favour of employing terminological fluff to describe their connectivity intentions across the next term.
"Since a person, party or community will no more be able to accuse the government of breaking its manifesto pledge than they will to define exactly what was meant by 'near universal' in the first place, it promises nothing tangible."
We will secure the delivery of superfast broadband in urban and rural areas to provide coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017, and we will ensure no one is left behind by subsidising the cost of installing superfast capable satellite services in the very hardest to reach areas.
"This government's promise to reach 95% of the UK with superfast broadband by 2017 is already over two years in process.
"It should be noted, however, that superfast now reaches only around 80% of UK homes. The government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, which works alongside BT Openreach, must reach twice as many homes in the next two years than it has in the last two in order to reach its target.
"I will be elated if BT and whichever incumbent somehow manages that, but its chances appear rather bleak at this time.
"Subsidy on cost of installation of satellite broadband for remote, rural dwellings is welcome. Satellite broadband can cost up to ten times regular copper broadband or fibre, so if the government can even the playing field, that can only be a good thing.
"However, there are many use cases that make satellite and copper or fibre broadband an apples and oranges comparison. Satellite tends to be far less reliable and the latency caused by beaming data to space and back makes many applications difficult, impossible, or at the very least downright irritating.
"Without an unequivocal promise to roll fibre broadband out to every dwelling in the UK, there will always be a significant portion of our society at a digital disadvantage."
We have set an ambition that ultrafast broadband should be available to nearly all UK premises as soon as practicable.
"While superfast broadband – defined variously as 'speeds above 24Mbps' and 'speeds above 30Mbps' depending on whom you ask – is yet to reach around 5 million UK households, don't expect to receive ultrafast – mostly defined as speeds over 100Mbps – anytime soon.
"Labour has promised fast broadband to every household in the UK by 2020 – a promise that seems to me to take no account of the scale of engineering, geographical and budgetary challenges such an undertaking would demand. The Conservatives have instead hedged. Sensibly, I might add."
We will hold the mobile operators to their new legally binding agreement to ensure that 90 per cent of the UK landmass will have voice and SMS coverage by 2017.
"While you'll often hear networks advertising 99% coverage, such figures apply to population, not landmass. Which is why the UK is still riddled with 'not-spots' – places where you cannot receive a mobile signal of any kind.
"A pledge to address the issue is a welcome one. Living, working, or even passing through such an area is at best frustrating, and at worst – in instances of accidents occurring in remote locations – a threat to life."
We will continue to invest in mobile infrastructure to deliver coverage for voice calls and text messages for the final 0.3 – 0.4 per cent of UK premises that do not currently have it. We will ensure that Britain seizes the chance to be a world leader in the development of 5G, playing a key role in defining industry standards.
"The Conservative Party is referring here to '2G'. It's amazing to think, while the most current conversations extoll the virtues of 5G that there are still a significant number of people who live and/or work in regions of the country where they can't even send a text message. This will be welcome news to the unlucky few.
"On the matter of 5G: 'seizing chances' 'playing a key role' 'a world leader' – all terms that have no agreed definition or standard. I have no doubt that the UK will play some role in the future of 5G, but the precise shape of that role remains a mystery to me. Just as it apparently does to this government."
Notes to editors
- If using our research and/or commentary we would deeply appreciate a link either to this page or to https://www.cable.co.uk
What is Cable?
Cable is a broadband, TV and phone comparator, unique news source and consumer champion.
Dan Howdle has been plugged into the attitudes of UK broadband, TV and mobile customers for over two decades, running research fieldwork both nationally and internationally on behalf of the biggest players in the industry. Dan is now consumer telecoms analyst at Cable, as well as more formally operating in the role of its Director of Communications and Content.
An experienced broadcaster, commentator and writer, Dan has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITV, Sky and in the national papers. Dan has advised Ofcom on issues surrounding service quality, administered Cable’s Broadband Service Quality Awards and sat on the panel of judges for the Internet Service Providers Association annual awards.