The sale of 5G spectrum in Belgium took place quite late. Nevertheless, it seems that our country no longer has a significant backlog. In fact, the rollout of 5G in a B2B context is going very well.
Belgium is well into the transformation of 5G. these are not our words: at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona we hear positive sounds from all sides. Providers, Infrastructure Partners and even private 5G specialists praise the commitment and strategy of our country.
That’s somewhat surprising. After all, our country was very late with the distribution of radio spectrum for the rollout of 5G, which was the direct result of political hack-work on the distribution of the money that would be raised by that auction. Both federal government and federal states wanted a sufficiently large portion of the cake. Although there was no single reason not to organize the auction already and distribute the money afterwards, in 2019 politicians still decided to block the issue. Only in the middle of last year, three years after the failed agreement around the safe, the Belgian spectrum was finally divided.
The political delay could have significant implications. After all, without radio spectrum, operators cannot roll out a network. The fear was that the postponement of the auction would cause our country to build a huge backlog against the rest of Europe and the world. In the end, it did not go such a speed. Some smart decisions in the margins, together with a subsidy program, ensure that Belgium is quite well ahead in the field of 5G.
This is partly because operators were already conditionally able to work with 5G before the spectrum auction. “Flanders has been quick with the relaxation of spectrum standards,” says Werner De Laet, CEO at Orange Belgium. The relaxed rules allowed several parties including Orange to get started with test networks. Such a project was already started in the Port of Antwerp in 2019. Through test networks, providers but also companies could already gain experience with 5G.
De Laet thinks that, among other things, this is why our country is not lagging behind other European countries. In addition, Belgium is about to distribute subsidies to various 5G pilot projects. De Laet: “if there is still a backlog, it will certainly be eliminated with the subsidy program.”
In total, our government wants to invest 24 million euros in projects that focus on innovation with the help of 5G, AI and edge computing. The granting of these grants was originally planned to take place at the end of last year, but has only just taken place. In the corridors of MWC we already heard in advance that the award was up, but the competent Cabinet of minister De Sutter was inaccessible for comment.