4G expected in Brussels for 2014

  • Friday, Brussels environment minister Evelyne Huytebroeck presented a new proposal to implement ultra high-speed mobile technology.
  • Power reduction for towers will mean an increase in numbers.
  • Providers, who were not consulted, remain cautious.

“There were two imperatives: ensure the capital’s technological development and compliance with the legal reality implemented by parliament in 2007.” These were the terms used by the Brussels environment minister, Evelyne Huytebroeck, as she announced on Friday morning the compromise attained by the majority on the implementation of a 4G network in the capital.

The legal reality? A parliamentary ruling strongly supported by the minister herself and agreed to by the entire majority – PS, CDH, CD&V and Groen – with the exception of the Open VLD. This ruling, based on the principal of prudence, plans to reduce the power of cell towers in the Brussels-Capital Region to 3 volts/meter per technology (2G, 3G, and 4G).

For this to happen, providers must share three “pots,” one for each technology, each limited to 3 volts/meter. “The regional ceiling will be around 6 volts/meter,” the minister stated. The Brussels region will differ in this from its two neighbors, where the standards are more relaxed (21.5 volts/meter in Flanders, and unlimited in Wallonia).

The second part of the agreement calls for the formation of a panel of independent experts. “It will be made up of a scientist, a physician, an economist and an engineer,” Evelyne Huytebroeck specified. This panel will report annually on “health” and “technology” aspects.

Finally, since the reduction in the power of emissions may compromise the Brussels system’s quality, the new agreement allows for the expansion of the tower park to secure coverage that is both optimal and respects the principle of precaution.

In addition, the minister announced that Brussels Environment is “already” performing a study aimed at increasing the inventory of public buildings able to receive these towers, “with the exception of day-care centers, schools and hospitals,” the minister said. This does not rule out the possibility of negotiating with private partners on the issue.

On Belgacom’s side, Frédéric Verbist welcomes the proposal: “it’s the first step in the right direction.” On the question of putting the network in place, Belgacom is hesitant in light of the novelty of the technology. “For the time being, we will use existing towers prior to expanding our infrastructure.”

Base has mixed feelings. It is surprised that providers were not invited to take part in this new proposal, “which we are just now learning about,” says Florence Mulls. “It seems not to take into account future perspectives and technological evolution,” she continues.

The main concern is users’ insecurity during indoor use, especially tunnels and the metro. “Indoor coverage will be subject to the same limitations and sharing principles, and we fear that quality in particular will be affected.”

Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort was also present for the presentation of the new proposal. He tempered the urgency of adopting the new technology in his region: “is watching television and downloading films on a smartphone economically interesting?” he asked.

According to Evelyne Huytebroeck, the process of implementing this new ruling will be completed by law, between now and the end of the year. That leads us to believe that 4G will be operational in the capital sometime next year.

OLIVIER CROUGHS

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