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Leading Belgian telcos land key 5G spectrum

Once seen as behind the curve in next-gen infrastructures, Belgium now comes out strongly for 5G, with telcos Orange and Telenet snaffling up additional spectrum capability to offer advanced mobile services

In the not-too-distant past, the Belgian 5G market was developing slowly and with no small degree of complexity. But as the country completes its first 5G spectrum auction, worth €1.2bn, two of the country’s leading operators, Orange and Telenet, have revealed their share of the latest ongoing spectrum auction, which they have said will propel not only their business but also that of their enterprise and consumer customers.

In the main phase of the auctions on mobile spectrum organised by the Belgian communications regulator, the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT), Orange Belgium claims to have obtained the maximum amount of the new 5G spectrum bands available for auction. The telco now has spectrum rights for 2X10 MHz in 700 MHz, 2X10 MHz in 900 MHz, 2X15 MHz in 1800 MHz, 2X15 MHz in 2100 MHz, and 100 MHz in 3.6 GHz spectrum. The total amount paid for the unique license fees over a period of 20 years is €322m.

The telco says the additional spectrum, the maximum with respect to the new 5G frequencies, will allow it to ensure a high-quality coverage coupled with a high capacity for its advanced mobile network for its residential and business customers. ​The spectrum obtained in the auction provides Orange Belgium with the means to realise its 5G ambitions, while it will also ensure it can provide optimal 4G services.

To further optimise the efficiency of its spectrum, Orange Belgium also announced it is to start phasing out 3G technology from its network as of mid-2023, for a definitive switch-off of 3G in 2025. 2G technology will remain until the end of 2028, and Orange Belgium has guaranteed the continuity of the 4G technology that covers nearly 100% of the Belgian population.

Switching off legacy technologies such as 3G and 2G is regarded by Orange Belgium as an opportunity to provide more efficient, sustainable and value-added experiences for its customers. For IoT customers, the telco will build migration paths and ensure a smooth transition.

“The spectrum obtained will allow us to implement our 5G ambitions and deploy innovative and future technologies to continue providing the best experience to our customers in an efficient and sustainable way,” said Orange Belgium’s CEO, Xavier Pichon.

“The 4G and 5G technologies provide unparalleled customer experience in terms of voice quality, data performance and limiting CO2 emissions, in IoT capabilities and soon in terms of coverage of 5G. As a next-generation telecom operator, we seize this opportunity to optimise the management of our network, upgrade it to more secure, resilient, energy-efficient and modern technologies, namely 4G and 5G, which are now operating in most European countries and stay true to our customer obsession.”

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Meanwhile, rival operator Telenet Group confirmed that it had obtained frequencies in the 700 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 3500 MHz bands for a total amount of €264.3m. Telenet said it would use this spectrum to ensure continuity of service for its existing networks, and to continue the expansion of its 5G network, whose commercial roll-out began in December 2021 for the Telenet brand, and in April 2022 for the BASE brand and for Telenet Business.

BIPT allocated to Telenet reserved spectrum in the 900 MHz (2x5 MHz), 1800 MHz (2x15 MHz) and 2100 MHz (2x10 MHz) frequency bands for €73m. The frequencies obtained through the auction procedure, which began on 1 June and ended on 20 June, have now been added to these frequencies.

In total, Telenet obtained (including the reserved spectrum) 2x5 MHz in the 700 MHz band, 2x10 MHz in the 900 MHz band, 2x20 MHz in the 1800 MHz band, 2x15 MHz in the 2100 MHz band and 100 MHz in the 3500 MHz band, for a total amount of €264.3m. Telenet will be able to use these frequencies for a period of 20 years, except for the frequencies in the 3500 MHz band, which will expire on 6 May 2040.

With the combination of frequencies, Telenet says it will be able to continue its mobile roll-out plan. While the renewal of the existing spectrum will enable it to secure the continuity of service of its existing networks, it added that with spectrum obtained in the 700, 900 and 3500 MHz frequency bands, it would be able to expand its 5G network and offer its residential and business customers an “even better” 5G experience.

“I am very happy with the outcome of this spectrum auction,” said Telenet CEO John Porter. “We have been able to acquire as much as 200 MHz of spectrum for a very competitive price. This result is a key milestone in the 5G journey.

“Over the past few years, we have not just been sitting back and waiting for the 5G spectrum auctions: we used the BIPT test licence to test 5G use cases with partners in various domains and were able to start our commercial roll-out in December 2021 with the Telenet brand, in March with Telenet Business and last April with BASE, thanks to BIPT’s temporary 5G licence,” he said. “At the same time, we continued to roll out and actively prepare our network day after day. Thanks to the newly acquired frequencies, we now enter a new phase of expansion of our 5G network, which will in the end provide higher speeds, capacity, lower latency and more stability to consumers, as well as businesses on the whole Belgian territory.”

The full auction process is not yet complete – the positioning within each band of the acquired spectrum must now be determined, and later there will be an auction of spectrum in the 1400 MHz band. During the next steps of the auction, the exact positioning of the obtained spectrum bands must still be defined, and following this phase, an additional auction for the 1400 MHz spectrum will take place. In addition, operators have the choice to either opt for a single advance payment or annual deferred payments. Telenet is still assessing both options.

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