The operator intends to set up a joint venture (JV) for both Flanders and Wallonia, aiming to cover 1.7 million additional premises in low population density areas

At the start of this week, Belgian operator Proximus announced that it had passed one million buildings with fibre, the final building being Brussel’s iconic Atomium.

Now, the operator has revealed even greater ambitions when it comes to providing fibre connectivity throughout the country, suggesting that its massive fibre drive is only just beginning. 

This week, Proximus has signed a new Memorandum of Understanding with a consortium of Belgian financial partners called I4B (The Belgian Infrastructure Fund), aiming to bring full fibre connectivity to 1.7 million additional homes and businesses in low-population areas. 

As part of the envisaged partnership, Proximus will set up a new JV in both Flanders (the northern region of the country) and Wallonia (the southern region), which will invest a combined €4 billion into fibre rollout. Both JVs will offer ISPs access to the network on a non-exclusive and non-discriminatory basis, with Proximus, naturally, acting as the anchor tenant. 

In the long term, Proximus hopes to cover 95% (5.9 million) of Belgian premises with fibre by 2032, with the remaining 5% being reached via fixed wireless access technology. The operator suggests that 2.2 million of these premises in the most-dense areas of the country will be complete by the end of 2026, with capex expected to peak between 2022 and 2023. Proximus hopes to have passed 22% of all homes and businesses by the end of 2022, with a further 10% covered each year after that.

Proximus is reportedly still ironing out the details with I4B, with a more formal deal expected to be announced by the end of the year.  

This is not the first time that Proximus has explored the joint investment model when it comes to fibre. Last year, Proximus joined forces with separate private equity investors to create two fibre joint ventures targeting medium-population areas, Fiberklaar (Flanders) and Unifiber (Wallonia). According to Proximus, so far 37 ISPs have signed up to sell services over these two networks, with their success likely the inspiration behind creatin two more fibre JVs. 

These additional fibre investments cannot come soon enough for Belgium, which languishes towards the bottom of the European leader board when it comes to fibre deployment. Currently, only 17% of homes and businesses in Belgium have access to fibre, far below the EU average of 57%. 

Nonetheless, enormous efforts are being made by operators and investors to improve the situation, with Belgium now having the fastest fibre rollout in Europe, with an additional premise being passed every 15 seconds. 

In related news, Proximus has today announced that it is currently testing 5G network slicing with Nokia, with commercial availability expected to be announced in Q3 this year. 

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