Proximus and partners to spend €4 billion on fibre

fibre broadband

Belgian operator Proximus is working with investment partners that it hopes will help it spend €4 billion on the roll out of new fibre to premises not covered by its existing plans.

The company revealed it has signed a memo of understanding with a group of financial partners led by local investment fund I4B (or I4B – The Belgian Infrastructure Fund, to give it its full title).

There are still Is to dot and Ts to cross, but if all goes to plan the parties aim to set up two new joint venture companies, one covering the country’s Flanders region and the other Wallonia, which will roll out fibre-to-the-prem to up to 1.7 million additional homes and businesses in areas with low population density.

The two JVs together will invest €4 billion in the project, Proximus said, without providing further details on what sums would be allocated to which regions.

We should find out more by the end of the year. Proximus and the investors are continuing negotiations on the terms and conditions of the project and are working towards an end-2022 deadline to ink a final deal. The telco has promised a more detailed update then.

As it stands, Proximus’s fibre infrastructure reaches 1 million premises, the telco having trumpeted the connection of the millionth building earlier this week when it hooked up Brussels’ iconic Atomium. As it stands, 17% of Belgium homes and businesses have fibre coverage, a figure that should rise to 22% by the end of the year.

Proximus kick started its own fibre rollout as long ago as December 2016 with the launch of the Fiber for Belgium project, then a €3 billion scheme, although the investment required has since risen to north of €5 billion. 1 million connections in over five years is not a huge amount, but recent developments suggest the telco is really picking up the pace on fibre. This time last year it hooked up with Eurofiber in Wallonia and EQT in Flanders to create Unifiber and Fiberklaar respectively, open access wholesale fibre networks. Proximus has contracts with 37 retail operators across those networks.

The partnerships have helped Proximus extend its coverage to areas with medium population density, it says. And now it looks as though the telco is looking to replicate this model in trickier to reach areas.

If all goes to plan with I4B et al, Proximus aims to extend fibre coverage to 95 percent of homes and businesses in the country by 2032, or as Proximus puts it, to bring fibre connectivity to “nearly the entire Belgian population.”

As is always the case with these types of project, there remains the disgruntled final 5 percent, many of whom are doubtless making their voices heard in the comments sections of the Belgian press this week. They’re getting fixed wireless access.

Proximus’s announcement included the usual canned comments from I4B chief executive André Autrand and Deputy PM and comms minister Petra De Sutter on the importance of digital inclusion, and from Proximus CEO Guillaume Boutin talking up the applications fibre will support and its contribution to a more environmentally friendly future.

But ultimately this is about a telco doing its job – rolling out networks – and finding new ways to finance them. The shared investment model is clearly working for Proximus already, so its hardly surprising it is keen to do it again.


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