5G regulation and law in Belgium

Information current as of 1 January 2020

What is the state of 5G deployment in Belgium?

The implementation of 5G communication services is on the agenda of the Belgian federal government and the Belgian national regulatory authority (i.e. the Belgian Institute for Postal services and Telecommunications or BIPT).

Three specific frequency bands should be made available for the roll-out of the 5G technology in Belgium in the coming months: the 700 MHz, the 3400-3800 MHz and the 1,5 GHz frequency bands:

  • the federal government has adopted draft regulations that set out the conditions for obtaining and exercising rights of use for these frequency bands (hereafter referred to as the “5G draft regulations”). The process of adopting these regulations is still ongoing and the said obligations are therefore not yet applicable;
  • Provided that the 5G draft regulations are adopted in time in their final version, the national regulatory authority plans to organise an auction procedure for each of the three frequency bands in the course of 2019 (probably in autumn 2019);
  • However, due to a disagreement between the federal authority and the regional authorities on the distribution of the revenues generated by the auctioning of the frequency bands, it is possible that the auction procedure will be delayed until 2020 (thus delaying the roll-out of the 5G technology until the end of 2020 or even 2021).  

In the longer term, the BIPT also plans to auction other frequency bands for the roll-out of the 5G technology (such as the 26 GHz frequency band which could be made available as from 2021).

Which telcos and communications players are launching 5G services?

As the auction procedure for the deployment of 5G technology has not started yet, it is not clear which operators will develop this technology in Belgium. However, several operators have already announced that they have started testing this technology with a view to developing it on the Belgian market. A network sharing agreement between Proximus and Orange Belgium has been signed on 22 November 2019. The shared mobile access network will be designed, built and operated by a new joint venture, owned 50/50 by Proximus and Orange Belgium which will be based in Brussels.

Are there any public tenders for spectrum licences?

Yes tenders are foreseen for 700 MHz, 3400-3800 MHz and 1.5 GHz frequency bands.

What are the conditions?

The 5G draft regulations (which still have to be adopted in their final version) set out the conditions for obtaining and exercising rights of use for the 700 MHz, the 3400-3800 MHz, and 1.5 GHz frequency bands.

These conditions include:

  • the payment of fees for the use of the allocated radio spectrum.
  • compliance with the network coverage requirements set out in the 5G draft regulations.
  • compliance with the procedure for granting rights of use (in the relevant frequency bands) described in the 5G draft regulations

What has the government said regarding spectrum licences for commercial use?

The federal government and the BIPT are taking a positive position towards 5G spectrum licences for commercial use and have emphasised the associated opportunities for citizens, the economy, industry and science.

Are the rules for 5G already drafted, and if so, what do they say?

To date, the only rules that have been drafted in relation to 5G are contained in the above-mentioned 5G draft regulations (see above for a brief description of the obligations contained therein).

The national regulatory authority has also adopted a series of communications relating to the introduction of the 5G technology in Belgium, the main objective of which is to discuss the frequency bands available for the 5G roll-out and to define a roadmap for the organisation of the auction procedure.

What are or would be the rules for granting competitors access to the new 5G networks, once they are deployed?

Belgian legislation already provides for the possibility of sharing passive infrastructure – i.e. sharing of non-electronic infrastructure at a site – between operators (see Articles 25 to 28/1 of law of 13 June 2005 on electronic communications). Some forms of passive infrastructure sharing are even made mandatory by law (e.g. shared use of antenna sites).

The possibility of setting up active infrastructure sharing (i.e. sharing of electronic infrastructure including frequency sharing) is also provided for in the 5G draft regulations. This form of infrastructure sharing is not mandatory but is left to the initiative of the operators (who must submit a request to this effect to the BIPT).

Dirk Van Liedekerke
Dirk Van Liedekerke
Partner
Brussels