Will Brussels have 4G in 2013?

February 21st, 2013 Posted in Blog

Brussels has a bad reputation for 3G service due to regulations which limit the power levels of the towers. Recent news from the Belgian Telecommunications regulator, BIPT, suggests this may change, opening up the possibility of 4G in the capital sometime in 2013. But is it realistic?

In 2007, the Brussels region’s parliament adopted rules which limited the exposure limit in the capital to a level 200 times lower than any other recommendation. The low power levels have resulted in lower 3G speeds, dropped connections, and dead spots in some parts of the city. The reason for the restrictions was¬†concern about the impact of long term exposure to an environment densely packed with radio waves. But so far there has been no evidence brought forward to show there is a long term impact, a fact which has been argued strongly by Belgian operators.

This issue has recently reached a high point with the roll out of next generation mobile technologies, termed 4G. The restrictions imposed in Brussels are divided equally per operator and each operator must then divide that restriction across each mobile technology (2G, 3G). Adding 4G under the current regulations would require reducing power levels even further for 2G and 3G technologies or dropping one of them altogether. Even then the reduced power levels would seriously restrict the benefit of 4G.

Last week BIPT, the Belgian telecommunications regulator, recommended the rules be relaxed in Brussels. This was welcome news for operators, leading to announcements that 4G would be available in Belgium by Autumn 2013. Realistically though, there is a way to go before that can happen.

First, the regulator has only just provided the advice. The Brussels Parliament must now agree on the changes to the regulations, then the regulation must be passed. This is not necessarily an easy feat.

Second, assuming the regulations are in place, the operators have to have the infrastructure in place. The regulator’s recommendation is a good signal that the rules will change, but it is not a guarantee. Certainly, it reduces the risk of any infrastructure investment in Brussels, but the real investments will come once the shape of the new regulations are better known.

Finally, the chicken and egg problem: operators need to also find customers and be able to offer the equipment. With the novelty of  4G and the variety of spectrum being used around the world, buying a mobile device which supports 4G is a bit of a crap shoot. Therefore consumers will likely be forced to buy products directly from the operator in the short term.

Will we see 4G in Brussels in 2013? Assuming the regulations don’t get bogged down, it is likely there will be a few towers upgraded and ready to offer service. The number of users, however, will likely be limited. Expect 2013 to be the year where the investment begins, meaning 2014 will be the year 4G actually starts to make sense in Brussels.

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