Tuesday, 18 February 2014
Brussels Finally Joins the 4G Era
Imagine working at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, knowing you had no access to 4G Internet even as the rest of Belgium was enjoying it. That has been the scenario in the Belgian capital for quite a while, thanks to regulations that prevented wireless data communications providers from installing the technology necessary for 4G networking. However, things have finally changed.
Brussels and her residents finally joined the 4G era as Proximus began its rollout of a brand-new LTE network. It will be a year before everyone in the city has access, but at least the change is now underway. It is unfortunate that the situation required intervention from EC vice president Neelie Kroes in order to be resolved.
The problem in Brussels was not related to infrastructure or hardware limitations. It was the direct result of regulations that did not allow for the installation of the towers and antennae needed to provide 4G access. Those towers exceed the 3 volts per metre output cap currently in place within city limits.
The lack of 4G access in the city that hosts the European Commission eventually became a political and public image problem that the EC could not ignore. Now it appears that the European Parliament is ready to institute a new ordinance tripling the allowable output to 6 volts per metre. In anticipation of the new ordinance, service providers are making plans to get their antennae up and running.
Despite the good news, telcos are warning that citywide 4G access is far from a done deal. They still face the prospect of gaining all the necessary permits required to place towers and antennae in the right locations. Provided there are no more delays, they expect the rollout to be complete by early next year.
It is ironic to note that a prohibitive regulatory environment in the European capital prevented the EC from joining the rest of the world in high-speed data communications. The 3 volt per metre limit on communication tower output is 200 times lower than what is recommended by both the World Health Organisation and the European Union, yet it took a handful of EC politicians getting upset before any action was taken. Should things have really come to that?
If Europe is to lead the way in pushing global communications into the future, the regulatory environment across the continent needs to be flexible and as easy to change as possible. It should not take an embarrassing situation like the one we have seen in Brussels to make the powers that be understand how stifling unnecessary regulation is to innovation. These types of scenarios only hurt our efforts to maintain our position as world leaders in high-speed Internet, IT services and other technologies.
As for the residents of Brussels, we are happy for them and their newfound access to 4G. A year from now, everyone living in the city will be enjoying all the benefits of 4G Internet, including higher data speeds and greater access to on-demand Internet services.