The Belgian operator says its partnership with the utility company will help convert their combined hybrid fibre coaxial assets into full fibre
Today, Belgian operator Telenet has announced a new agreement with utility company Fluvius to form a joint venture (JV) to deploy full fibre throughout Flanders.
Telenet will own 66.8% of the JV, while Fluvius will own the remaining 33.2%.
The JV, with the working title of NetCo, will focus on combining the partners hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) network infrastructure and upgrading it to full fibre, aiming to reach 78% of their combined footprint in Flanders by 2038. In some areas, NetCo will instead be upgrading the HFC network with DOCSIS technology, with the ultimate goal being to ensure that all customers have access to gigabit-capable broadband.
“Using a mixture of both HFC and fiber technologies, we have a roadmap to offer all our customers speeds of 10 Gbps. With Fluvius as a strong partner, we will continue to develop our HFC infrastructure and implement as well new fiber technology, mainly in the last parts of our network, from the street into the homes,” explained Telenet’s CEO John Porter.
The partners will reportedly invest up to €2 billion in fibre over the next eight years, with the company funded directly by the two partners, with no need for external financing. Telenet in particular should have no trouble finding the cash right now, having sold its tower infrastructure unit to investor DigitalBridge earlier this year for €745 million.
A fibre-focussed tie-up between the two companies has been in discussion since at least Junee 2020, not long after Fluvius launched its first pilot fibre network in 2019.
Fluvius is the Belgian grid operator for electricity and natural gas in Flanders, as well as owning and operating a wholesale full fibre network in the region. Telenet is already a key customer for Fluvius, already provides services over Fluvius’s existing network.
However, the partners stated that they are open to further expanding the JV’s membership with new strategic or financial partners for the JV.
Fibre JVs are becoming hugely popular in Belgium. Proximus, for example, has already formed two such companies targeting medium-population areas: Fiberklaar, covering Flanders, and Unifiber, covering Wallonia. According to the operator, the two JVs have already partnered with 37 internet service providers, with more discussions currently underway.
Perhaps this success is why Proximus announced at the end of last month that it will in fact create two more fibre JVs with its new partner, I4B (The Belgian Infrastructure Fund). These new companies will reportedly focus on low-population areas in both Flanders and Wallonia, respectively, seemingly acting in a complementary fashion to the footprint of Fiberklaar and Unifiber.
Regardless of the investment structure, it is clear that Belgium needs all the help it can get when it comes to putting fibre into the ground. The nation currently has one of the worst levels of FTTH penetration in all of Europe, with only around 17% of homes having access to fibre. As a result, the operators and the government have been rapidly scaling up their rollout efforts in the past two years, with Belgium today seeing the fastest fibre deployment rate in Europe.
Beyond its fiberisation efforts, Telenet is also advancing its mobile ambitions. Last month, Telenet secured 5G spectrum in the 700 MHz, 900 MHz, 1.8 GHz, 2.1 GHz, and 3.5 GHz bands at the national spectrum auction, spending €264.3 million.
Telenet first launched commercial 5G back in December 2021 using temporary 5G spectrum allocated by the regulator.
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