Belgium cabinet approves draft legislation for 5G auction

25 Jan 2021

The Belgian government approved draft legislation on 22 January which will finally enable the country’s long-delayed 5G mobile spectrum auction to be staged. The cabinet approved five royal decrees proposed by telecoms minister Petra De Sutter, as well as draft amendments to the electronic communications law required to proceed with the auction, which is expected to take place by early 2022. The process had been stalled by the lengthy delay in forming a new federal government and disagreement among the regions over how the auction revenues, which are expected to be at least EUR800 million (USD974 million), should be divided.

The five decrees cover frequency usage in various bands, namely: the allocation of the 2.6GHz band, including the possibility for the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT) to withdraw unused user rights in that band; the option for the BIPT to extend existing 2G (900MHz and 1800MHz) and 3G (2100MHz) licences due to expire in March 2021 until the auction has been completed; the allocation of the 700MHz band, also referred to as the ‘second digital dividend’, for 5G services; the allocation of the 1427MHz-1517MHz range, standardised for SDL by the 3GPP and therefore suitable for use by mobile operators with other frequency bands; and the allocation of the 3400MHz-3800MHz (3.6GHz) band for 5G services. The draft amendment to Article 30 of the Law of 13 June 2005 on Electronic Communications, meanwhile, concerns the fees for the use of the spectrum.

The texts also specify that operators will be required to provide 5G coverage to 70% of population after one year, 99.5% after two years and 99.8% after six years. With regard to the thorny issue of radiation standards, the minister has stressed that operators will have to respect regional regulations, as ‘it is not for the federal government to dictate the rules’, reports L’Echo. The next step will be to present the proposal to the Inter-ministerial Committee on Telecom and Broadcasting and the Coordination Committee of the federal government and regions, following which parliament must approve the legislation and the BIPT can begin planning the technical details of the auction.

Meanwhile, Proximus CEO Guillaume Boutin has told L’Echo that the coverage targets set out in the draft legislation are feasible and that he expects that the deployment of 5G services will ‘go very quickly’, indeed even faster than the 4G rollout, as the low frequency 700MHz band will enable coverage of a wider area.