Excellent reception for the proposed fourth mobile operator

Industry representatives have given a cool reception to a proposal by federal minister Alexander De Croo, responsible for telecommunications, to open up space in the mobile landscape for a fourth major operator in order to stimulate competition.

According to De Croo, Belgians pay too much for their mobile phone services, especially considering that services are less than in neighbouring countries.

The licences for new mobiles services are open to tender next year, while existing licences for the Big Three – Telenet, Proximus and Base – expire in 2021. In addition, new licences for new 5G frequencies will be auctioned off in 2020.

“By creating a space for a fourth mobile network, we can ensure new investments, an improved competition and lower prices for the consumer,” De Croo said.

According to estimates, the auction of new 5G frequencies could bring in €700 million for the state coffers, with the benefits going partly to the language communities, and partly to bringing down the state’s debt.

However the idea of opening up the market to a new competitor has been given the cold shoulder by existing operators.

The idea of rolling out a new 5G network in the nation’s capital was torpedoed by Proximus CEO Dominique Leroy, who pointed out that radiation limits in Brussels prevent companies from even carrying out tests for the new standard, the successor of the existing 4G estimated to be many times faster.

Proximus has already carried out a successful test of 5G in Leuven, but Brussels holds to a much stricter limit than either Flanders or Wallonia.

“Brussels wants to portray itself as a digital city, but how is that supposed to happen without quality networks?” Leroy asked. “At present, we’re not even able to carry out tests.”

On the announcement of De Croo’s proposal to open up the market to a fourth player, Proximus shares lost an immediate 9% on the stock market. Since the government owns slightly more than half of all Proximus stock, the announcement cost the treasury an estimated €300 million.

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