5G will be needed to connect everything
Improving 4G and rolling out 5G are top government priorities going into the next decade Reuters

With the General Election on 8 June fast approaching, IBTimes UK looks at the major technological pledges made by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats in their 2017 manifestos.

The three main parties all seek to improve internet speeds and mobile data coverage, and all acknowledge the need to embrace electric and low-emissions vehicles in a bid to improve air quality. Some proposals baffle with terms like "gigaspeed" and "fibre spines" while others target net neutrality and online safety. A handful are disappointingly vague.

Over a series of three features we have included proposed policies on 4G, 5G and broadband internet; safety online and cyber security; and what each party plans to do with electric and autonomous vehicles.

This is part one, focusing on mobile and fixed line internet services.

The Conservative Party

At a glance:

  • More transparent broadband pricing
  • Switching between broadband providers made easier
  • 19 out of 20 properties to have superfast broadband (at least 24Mbps) by end of 2017
  • Bring 'gigaspeed connectivity' to homes and businesses; investment in fibre lines
  • 95% of UK landmass to have phone signal by 2022
  • Wi-Fi on all mainline trains by 2022
  • 5G access for majority of population by 2027

First off, the Tories promise to make pricing of broadband "more transparent" and to make switching between broadband providers easier. The incumbent party also that, by the end of 2017, 19 out of 20 promises across the UK will "have access to superfast broadband" which is a service capable of providing download speed of at least 24Mbps. Additionally, by 2020 the Conservatives say every home and business in Britain will have access to "high speed internet", although exactly what speed that means is open to debate.

Also open to debate is what the Tories mean by "gigaspeed connectivity", which it promises to bring to "any many businesses and homes as possible" by an unknown date. Although it isn't clear what 'gigaspeed' means, it likely refers to internet connections of 1Gbps or more, which are currently well beyond the UK average of 36Mbps (0.036Gbps).

The Tories also promise "a full fibre connection voucher for companies across the country by 2018 and by 2022 we will have major fibre spines in over a hundred towns and cities, with 10 million premises connected to full fibre and a clear path to national coverage over the next decade." While the use of fibre for faster speeds is clear, a plan on how to deliver and pay for this is not mentioned.

Geographical mobile phone coverage will be extended by a Conservative government to 95% of the UK by 2022, and by the same year "all major roads and main line trains" will have "full and uninterrupted mobile phone signal". It isn't clear if this means the ability to make a phone call, or access a reliable 4G internet connection as well. Wi-Fi services on main line train services is also promised by 2022.

More spectrum will be released from the public sector and given to the private sector, the Conservatives say, and the party also has its eye on the development of a 5G mobile service, "providing [a] gigaspeed connection to your smartphone" It is claimed the majority of the UK population will have 5G access by 2027.

The Labour Party

At a glance:

  • Universal superfast broadband (24Mbps) by 2022
  • Improved mobile internet coverage and public transport Wi-Fi
  • Plans for 5G across all urban areas, major roads and railways
  • Plans to roll-out ultrafast (300Mbps) broadband within next decade
  • Emphasis on improving 4G and broadband in rural communities

Instead of "highspeed" and "gigaspeed" broadband, the Labour Party refers to "superfast" broadband in its 2017 manifesto. This is defined across the European Union as at least 24Mbps. This will be available "universally" by 2022, Labour says, adding that mobile internet coverage and free public Wi-Fi in city centres and on public transport will also be improved and expanded.

Mobile internet will see the current 4G coverage improved, before uninterrupted 5G being rolled out across "all urban areas, as well as major roads and railways". There is no date provided by Labour for when this will happen.

Labour adds: "One day we will instruct the National Infrastructure Commission to report on how to roll out 'ultrafast' (300Mbps) across the UK within the next decade.

Labour is making the UK's rural communities a focal point of its tech policies, blaming the current Conservative government for taking "rural communities for granted, with chronic underdevelopment in transport, broadband and public services...Labour will invest in broadband, housing and transport to create jobs, and ensure that the nation's prosperity is felt beyond our large towns and cities."

Finally, Labour once again targets rural communities by pledging to improve broadband and 4G, which it hopes will "underpin the future success of rural small businesses."

The Liberal Democrats

At a glance:

  • Programme for 'hyperfast' fibre-optic broadband
  • Every property to have unlimited broadband with 30Mbps download speeds and 6Mbps up by 2022
  • 2Gbps fibre connections for new-build properties
  • Work with Ofcom to provide fast and reliable rural 4G coverage

As part of a planned £100bn infrastructure investment package, the Liberal Democrats plan to develop a "programme of installing hyperfast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK."

In a similar move to Labour, the Lib Dems pledge: "Every property in the UK is provided, by 2022, with a superfast broadband connection with a download speed of 30Mbps, an upload speed of 6Mpbs, and an unlimited usage cap."

But, confusingly, the party also says it will "ensure that broadband connections and services provided before 2020 have a speed of 2Gbps or more, with fibre to the premises (FTTP) as standard and unlimited usage by 2020 across the whole of the UK." They say small and medium businesses should be prioritised during this hyperfast broadband rollout.

Speeds of 2Gbps is only available to around 2% of UK properties today, according to ISPreview, a website specialising on internet services. The site adds: "There is no possible way that 2Gbps connections could be made available across the whole of the UK before 2020."

The only mention given to 4G and 5G mobile networks in the Lib Dem manifesto is a pledge to "work with [media watchdog] Ofcom to ensure that mobile phone companies provide fast and reliable coverage in rural areas."