The 5G technology is the successor of earlier generations of mobile technology, i.e.:
- 2G: this allows to have mobile conversations and to send short text messages;
- 3G: 2G may have paved the way for using the Internet over a mobile phone, but that was not the initial intention. 3G aimed at launching mobile Internet. This technology introduced faster data links for Internet use on a mobile device;
- 4G: 4G connections can reach speeds of more than 100 Mbps, which for instance enables watching videos on the go;
- 5G is tens of times faster than 4G, but that is not the only aspect. It allows far more simultaneous users on the network and the connections will be more stable and reliable than is the case today. What’s more, thanks to the 5G technology a much larger number of wireless devices can be connected with a latency of a couple of milliseconds, opening the door for many new applications.
In time, it will be possible to deploy 5G in the same frequency bands used for the existing 3G and 4G networks. In accordance with the principle of technological neutrality (imposed by the European Directives), the operators having obtained user rights in a given frequency band are free to decide which technology (2G, 3G, 4G or 5G) they use in that band.
However, Europe has identified 3 “pioneer bands” that will be used for 5G all over the EU. This means that 5G equipment can be manufactured that operates on the same frequencies anywhere in Europe. The following frequency bands are concerned:
- The 700 MHz band: this frequency band is suitable for providing coverage of larger areas. As the transmitters in this frequency band have a rather substantial range, devices at a greater distance from the antennas can also access the network. This frequency band is suitable for e.g. Internet of Things applications but not for services requiring high data speeds;
- The 3600 MHz band: at the European level this band is considered to be the main band allowing a large-scale implementation of 5G. This band has a much larger bandwidth availability than the 700 MHz band. The data speed is higher, which makes this frequency band suited not only for various industrial applications but for customer services as well;
- The 26 GHz band: This frequency band has the highest speeds. This band arouses little interest in Belgium and will at first not be made available.
In addition to those pioneer bands, the 1400 MHz band is also proposed for 5G. It offers more download capacity (SDL).
Licences- 5G user rights auction
As the regulator of the electronic communications market, the BIPT manages the electromagnetic radio frequency spectrum. In that capacity, the BIPT grants user rights for radio frequencies entirely or partially used for electronic communications services offered to the public. The radio frequencies are distributed in a manner that guarantees they are used as efficiently as possible.
The same goes for the frequency bands that will be used for 5G.
The bill and the Royal Decrees laying down the terms and conditions for obtaining and exercising the 5G user rights in Belgium, were approved by the federal Council of Ministers on 22 January 2021.
For each radio frequency band the reserve price per MHz (minimum entry bid for the auction) has to be laid down in the Telecom Act. Only following ratification of the modified Article 30 of the Telecom Act the necessary implementation orders per radio frequency band can be adopted (by means of a RD), defining the specific requirements per band (for instance: minimum speed, coverage requirements, reserved spectrum, spectrum caps).
The BIPT will grant the user rights following the Consultation Committee’s consent and the approval by the Chamber (beginning of 2022 at the earliest). On 26 May 2021, the Consultation Committee already approved the bill, which was presented by the Minister in charge in Parliament on 2 June 2021.
Following the publication of the legislation, the BIPT will organise a “multiband auction” in order to grant user rights in the following frequency bands:
- the bands for which the existing user rights for 2G and 3G expire: 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz;
- the new bands that will be used for 5G: 700 MHz, 3600 MHz, 1400 MHz.
No auction of user rights in the 26 GHz band has been scheduled: the EU Member States have to approve the use of at least 1 GHz of the 26 GHz frequency band by 31 December 2020 at the latest, provided that there is demand for it. The consultation of the sector by the BIPT showed that there is no market demand for this.
Temporary 5G licences
On 14 July 2020, the BIPT granted temporary user rights in the 3600-3800 MHz radio frequency band to the operators Orange, Proximus and Telenet (Cegeka and Entropia initially showed interest as well but they have withdrawn. Through its subsidiary Citymesh, Cegeka already has at its disposal a similar quantity of spectrum in the 3400-3600 MHz frequency band.). This is one of the bands the EU designated as 5G pioneer bands, the user rights for which had to be granted before the end of 2020 according to the European schedule.
Thanks to the temporary user rights these operators can enable the first 5G developments in this frequency band in Belgium. In this regard, operators need to continue to comply with the regional authorities’ rules for the implementation of antennas and the existing radiation standards.
The temporary user rights in this frequency band will only remain valid until their final granting through an auction that is yet to be organised.
In December 2020, Proximus activated 5G in the spectrum for which temporary user rights had been obtained at a limited number of sites.
5G test licences
Pending the 5G auction, the BIPT issues test licences to operators, providers, research facilities, etc. These are limited in time and may not be used for commercial purposes.
The test licences are used to test 5G applications in various frequency bands, but mainly on 700 MHz and 3600 MHz. These are 5G pioneer bands.
Privacy and network security
5G networks have a less centralised architecture and have more potential access points. In order to ensure the security of 5G networks, a 5G toolbox has been approved at the European level. That toolbox presents all risks found following a coordinated EU assessment and includes technical and strategic measures, as well as corresponding actions in order to guarantee safety.
Each Member State will have to determine for itself and in a coordinated manner which of the measures proposed in the toolbox are the most relevant, and implement these. The BIPT participates in the actual implementation thereof. It suggested solutions to avoid possible risks regarding cybersecurity of 5G networks.