BRUSSELS, March 29 (Reuters) - The Belgian government has decided to proceed this year with the sale of a fourth mobile telecoms licence in a bid to spur further competition, the Economy Ministry said at the weekend.
A range of frequencies to operate GSM and higher speed UMTS mobile services should be put on the market by the end of the year, said Anne Everard, vice director in charge of communications for Economy Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.
A newcomer could in principle begin operating in 2010.
“Operators have indicated interest and we have had a lot of discussions recently with them,” Everard told Reuters by telephone.
Telenet (TNET.BR), a cable operator in the Dutch-speaking northern region of Flanders, and Voo, its counterpart in French-speaking Wallonia, are potential bidders, possibly together.
Both have already agreed MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) deals to offer mobile services via the networks of established players.
Belgium’s current mobile operators -- Belgacom’s BCOM.BR Proximus, Mobistar MSTAR.BR, majority-owned by France Telecom FTE.PA, and Dutch KPN Telecom’s (KPN.AS) Base -- will not be allowed to bid.
A public consultation round will begin shortly and legislation should be updated before the summer, with a view to a sale being carried out in the fourth quarter.
Conditions have not yet been set for the sale, which the government has said it hopes will raise at least 40 million euros ($53.62 million).
Belgium is set to make 5 megahertz (MHz) available in the 2.1 gigahertz (GHz) UMTS spectrum and another 5 in the 900 MHz GSM band. Belgium’s existing players each paid 150 million euros for 20-year licences with larger spectrums in 2001.
The European Commission said in a report issued last week that Belgium was no longer a telecoms front-runner with insufficiently effective competition for mobile and Internet services. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Rupert Winchester)