Belgacom Mobile will launch commercial 3G mobile services for laptops and PDAs in six of Belgium’s major cities on 13 May, with consumer voice and video telephony expected to follow in the first half of 2005. Offered under the Proximus brandname, the cellco will initially target business customers with Vodafone’s Mobile Connect 3G/GPRS laptop datacard, offering data transfer rates of up to 384kbps. The datacard will cost EUR371 (exclusive of VAT), with data bundles starting at EUR2 for 1MB and rising to EUR50 for 100MB. Proximus currently has coverage of Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi, Liège and Namur, and intends to extend the network to six more cities by the end of the year; outside of 3G coverage areas the service utilises Proximus’ 99%-coverage GPRS network. The cellco is currently testing 3G telephony applications and says it will only launch mobile handsets once they have met certain standards of quality and ‘once the market is ready’.
With penetration of 77.47% at the end of 2003 Belgium’s mobile market is fast approaching saturation point and the country’s operators are hoping that 3G services will be the catalyst to spur revenue growth. In July 2003 Proximus was the first of Belgium’s three cellcos to launch trial 3G services, two months ahead of the deadline set by the regulator. The operator gained its 3G licence in March 2001, paying EUR150 million, but like its rivals suffered a series of setbacks due to a lack of handsets, and failed to meet the initial rollout deadline of September 2002. Proximus’ 3G network is supplied by Nokia, after the cellco awarded the equipment supplier two contracts collectively worth around EUR200 million in January 2002.
Earlier this month Dutch group KPN Mobile, the parent of Proximus’ Belgian mobile rival BASE, announced that it will be launching its 3G efforts in Europe in the second half of this year. Business customers of KPN Mobile’s E-Plus subsidiary in Germany are set to be among the first to try out the new network, before services are expanded to corporate customers in the Netherlands in July and Belgium shortly after.