Belgium’s three mobile carriers have in recent months been ramping up their 5G network plans, but hurdles still lie in their way. These include growing concerns about radiation levels of new 5G antennas and the seeming inability of the country’s ruling bodies to agree on a 5G auction process.
Former telecom incumbent Proximus is working with Nokia to upgrade the capacity of its IP transport network tenfold to prepare for new services including 5G and IoT. The carrier has been working with Nokia on the Terabit IP Transport and Aggregation Network (TITAN) project since last August, and just switched on the Nokia 7750 SR-14s multi-terabit router that uses the Nokia FP4 network processor.
Proximus late last year also worked with Huawei on network tests that used 5G New Radio (NR) standards and spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. The carrier has been targeting a commercial 5G launch for 2020.
Orange Belgium last September claimed to be the first Belgium operator to present a set of “real use cases” that rely on 5G. Working with Nokia, the carrier demonstrated various virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) experiences and claimed its network was “ready to welcome 5G technology.”
Cable operator Telenet, which owns mobile carrier Base, has been taking a slower approach. It’s currently working to adapt its network core, and looking to carry out its first tests in 2020, with commercial deployment planned for 2021.
Where’s the Spectrum?
Yet as those three carriers continue to make progress, hopes of an imminent auction of 5G-focused spectrum have again been dashed as Belgium’s regional and federal governments have failed to reach a decision on how to distribute income from the sale of the licenses. Reports now suggest an auction is unlikely before early 2020, with claims that Belgium is set to fall behind in the 5G race.
Telenet CTO Micha Berger had previously adopted a sanguine approach to the auction delay, arguing in a blog in February that there is no need to panic. But “it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s a process that’s just starting and will take years.”
“Of course, the spectrum is necessary for an operator but if there is no auction this year, it is not fatal. We will not end up without networks because there are many temporary solutions,” Berger wrote. He cited measures such as the separate auction of new spectrum to speed up the process or the use of temporary 5G licenses until the auction takes place.
Another obstacle has also emerged after Céline Fremault, Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region and responsible for Housing, Quality of Life, Environment, and Energy, suspended plans to provide 5G throughout the Belgian capital of Brussels due to concerns about radiation levels. The city was set to have 5G services in 2020.
“I cannot welcome such technology if radiation standards, which must protect the citizen, are not respected,” said Fremault, according to reports. “The people of Brussels are not guinea pigs whose health I can sell at a profit. We cannot leave anything to doubt.”
Brussel’s radiation standards are particularly strict and have previously presented obstacles to providing 4G LTE services. The government will gather opinions on the level of emissions from 5G base stations before deciding on the next step.
Consumers, health specialists, and politicians have become increasingly vocal about the potential impact that 5G networks will have on health. Brussels is not alone in raising the alarm: members of the Dutch GroenLinks party have also been calling for an independent investigation into 5G radiation, while efforts have been made to stop a 5G trial in Rome.
Scientists and doctors have also launched the 5G Appeal that calls for a moratorium on the rollout of 5G in the European Union (EU). The main objective is to urge the EU “to take all reasonable measures to halt the 5G RF-EMF expansion until independent scientists can assure that 5G and the total radiation levels caused by RF-EMF (5G together with 2G, 3G, 4G, and WiFi) will not be harmful for EU citizens, especially infants, children, and pregnant women, as well as the environment.”
Hundreds of scientists and medical doctors had signed the appeal, which was initially submitted to the European Commission in September 2017.