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Telenet dips a toe in 5G market

Belgian operator Telenet plans to launch its first 5G service on Monday, but – understandably – it will be a very limited service in terms of both coverage and availability.

Telenet said it will roll out the next generation of mobile technology in certain zones in Antwerp, Leuven, and on the coast. That’s areas to the north and east of Brussels, essentially. Services will initially be available to business customers only.

Belgium’s status as a 5G laggard has been well documented. The government finally approved 5G spectrum auction rules just last week, which means the should take place in the first half of 2022, although we don’t yet have a firm date. Part of the country’s issue has been stringent rules on radiation emissions compared with the rest of Europe. A change in the law in Brussels – where radiation limits were tighter even than in the rest of the country – came in October, paving the way for the state to push on with auction plans.

Telenet says its early – for Belgium, if not elsewhere – 5G launch will be based on provisional 3.6 GHz and 3.8 GHz spectrum licences awarded by the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT) last year, which will allow for fairly small pockets of coverage.

“For the full rollout of 5G – with its associated benefits of increased capacity and fast response times – we await the government’s licence auction which is currently scheduled for the second quarter of 2022,” Telenet said. “In anticipation of the auction and in order to generate more coverage more rapidly, Telenet will also reuse 4G spectrum for 5G at certain locations.”

It is working with Nokia and Ericsson on what it terms its “gradual” 5G rollout, which it notes complies with existing standards for electromagnetic radiation. It aims to extend coverage to major Flemish cities and along motorways next year, as well as making 5G services available to the other brands and plan types in its portfolio.

Specifically, it says it will make 5G available to big business customers, such as hospitals, governments, schools and logistics providers through Telenet Business in the spring of next year.

Telenet’s Chief Technology Officer Micha Berger trotted out the usual statement outlining the benefits of 5G and the new applications it will facilitate. Telenet has been involved in various trials with cities and businesses, and “now we also want to gradually let our customers experience the possibilities of 5G,” he said.

Telenet’s repeated use of the word ‘gradual’ and variants thereof show that it is keen to set customer expectations for the arrival of 5G, which is a slightly different approach than many of its peers elsewhere in the world have taken thus far. Very sensible.

It also suggests that Telenet is not rushing a 5G service to market purely to get ahead of any possible new competition that could come about as a result of next year’s auction…probably because it’s not incredibly likely to happen. The auction rules are shaped so as to allow for a fourth mobile operator in Belgium, but, as Telecommunications Minister Petra De Sutter pointed out last week, that could also include a B2B player, which is perhaps a more tempting prospect for someone.

Either way, Telenet is not over-hyping its entry into the world of 5G, but its announcement is something of a step forward for the availability of the technology in Belgium.

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