Allocating 5G spectrum according to the commitment to local investment
15 September 2020
There's a recession looming. There are estimates that 250,000 people are at risk of losing their jobs. 5G could be the economic leverage we need. We are talking about the real 5G, and not the so-called 'light' version which is not 5G at all. Moreover, the installation of 5G networks entails investments in the digital economy. This is more important than ever. I would like to call on the government to use the speed of deployment of 5G and the rapid roll-out of fibre optic networks as criteria for allocation. Allocate the requested spectrum to the operators on the basis of who makes the best proposal: the more they invest, the more radio frequencies. If the mobile operators go for base station suppliers who are also going to realise economic activities in Belgium, the circle is complete.
Mobistar once rolled out an entire network in 9 months, with strong economic roots to this day.
We have a good example of how it can be done, namely the successful roll-out of the 2G Mobistar network years ago. At that time, Telindus and France Telecom ensured full coverage of our country very quickly, concretely within 9 months. To this day, the business plan submitted by Mobistar has resulted in strong local anchoring (including on the stock exchange) that has generated a great deal of added value.
Attracting investment via public measures rather than simply using public money
For a recovery of the economy it is important to invest. This way money is pumped into the economy, and that generates employment. In the technology sector, there are sub-areas where you can make investments that yield a lot for the Belgian economy. I'm thinking, among other things, of the telecommunications networks for rolling out 5G. After all, 5G is not possible without fibre optics. That fibre optic can also be used for home connections. All that data traffic has to come together somewhere; the data centres in our country are the ideal places for that. The 5G network is also a platform for further innovation in the digital economy. Digital is the new normal. Our experiences over the past few months have taught us that. Investments in digital infrastructures such as 5G are therefore very important.
It is often expected that in times of a shrinking economy, the government will invest in order to launch a recovery. In the old economy, this was also the case: the construction of the Antwerp ring road or the Regional ExpressNet to open up Brussels are examples of public investments that will certainly give a boost to our economy. But this can also be done through public measures that ensure that investments are made.
5G, the engine for recovery?
Soon we will be in an economic recession with a lot of unemployed people. Look at the first announcements of D'Ieteren and VCST. There are estimates that 250,000 people are going to lose their jobs. 5G could be the economic leverage we need.
Investments in the technology sector will be very productive. They will create employment, and we will soon have the digital infrastructure necessary for our country.
Think of the diggers of the fibre-optic networks. Opening footpaths to lay fibre optics is a very labour-intensive job, but a necessary one in order to create a fast 5G network and at the same time connect our homes to high-speed internet. Without a high-performance backbone pipe, there is no fast 5G. Think also of the installers of the antennas and transmitters of the mobile networks; that too will take a lot of work.
Stop discussing which government will get the money from the 5G auction.
We'd better stop the discussion about which government gets the money from the 5G auction. Every euro spent in a sector that can pull us out of recession is a well spent euro. When the money from the auction of frequencies goes to the federal and regional governments, it does not have the same leverage effect that will create extra employment. We need to focus on more productive investments.
I suggest we go to a "beauty contest" for the radio spectrum sooner. That way we will have much more and also more productive investments. The criteria could be the speed of expansion of 5G and the rapid roll-out of fibre optic networks. If the mobile operators also choose suppliers of base stations that will also realise economic activities in Belgium, the circle will have come full circle. On the basis of the best proposal, the operators get the spectrum they need. The more they invest, the more radio frequencies.
What are we waiting for?
Laurens van Reijen