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Mobistar UMTS Broadband, Belgium

Key Data

Mobistar is a subsidiary of the Orange group of companies; it is owned by France Telecom SA and operates in Belgium. A decision was made by Mobistar in November 2004 to upgrade its existing wireless network to 3G technology. This upgrade will help Mobistar accommodate more user traffic and allow them to offer faster and more capable data services to private and commercial customers. The new network will also help in cutting the costs of running a large wireless network.

The company will be able to offer broadband data services such as e-mail access with large attachments, faster internet browsing, personalised content and fast downloads for music / video, video streaming and video conferencing.

Mobistar is the second largest mobile telecoms provider in Belgium, competing with two other operators, Proximus, which is owned by Belgacom and Vodafone, and BASE (formerly KPNO), which is owned by KPN Mobile. Installation of the new network equipment is to start immediately (late 2004) and the new services are planned to start being offered to professional customers in the Belgian port of Antwerp in the first half of 2005, before expanding coverage to other cities in the country.

The value of the deal for installation of the new Mobistar network was not available but the company has announced a ten-year budget for upgrade of network equipment to UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Standard) of over €1 billion. On 2 March 2001, Mobistar purchased a UMTS licence from the Belgian government with a term of 20 years, for €150 million. The licence terms and conditions state that Mobistar should deploy its new network between 2005 and 2008. Although some leeway is allowed for unforeseen events the licence may be revoked and fines imposed for failure to meet the obligations. Mobistar is gradually introducing 3G technology into Belgium while also continuing investment into the existing network.


The Mobistar network upgrade contract was awarded to Nortel Networks of Canada. Nortel Networks will deploy UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution), GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and Multi-service Switch 7400 series switching equipment. Under the agreement for the upgrade, Nortel Networks will be the sole provider of 3G radio equipment as the migration project moves forward.

The contract requires Nortel Networks to deploy Node B Internet base transceiver stations (BTS) and Radio Network Controllers (RNCs). The hardware is HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) ready and is designed to upgrade to support HSDPA through a future software installation. Nortel Networks is also contracted to provide Mobistar with network planning, optimisation and start-up operations to support deployment and initial operation of the network.

Nortel Networks has developed a good relationship with Mobistar, having previously supplied about 50% of their current 2G wireless radio network. The 3G network upgrade will be deployed over the top of the existing wireless network in this 3G migration project and will not affect the existing services, coverage or quality of service. The UMTS standard will support data speeds of up to 384kbps, which is over ten times faster than Mobistar's current GPRS based wire-line dial-up access.

The 3G infrastructure proposed by Nortel Networks was initially tested on an experimental network deployed in Toulon, France, for Orange. Nortel Networks also supplied the 3G infrastructure deployed in Cannes (five-month installation) for the 2004 GSM World Congress as well as the Orange 3G access network in France (Cannes, Nice, Lyons and Marseille, Provence, Cote d'Azur and Rhone Alps).


High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) supports the introduction of high bit rate data services and increases network capacity with only a modest investment. It provides an evolutionary path for Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) networks to higher data rates and higher capacities, in the same way as Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) does for Global System for Mobile communication (GSM).

The introduction of shared channels for different users means that channel resources are used more efficiently in the packet domain, and are less expensive for users than dedicated channels. Future data rates could be as high as 10Mbps to 14Mbps; the installers of the Belgium Mobistar network would seem to have an eye on the future.


Orange holds a 50.79% stake in Mobistar. 19.6% is held by a consortium of financial investors, 4.7% by another investor and the remaining 24.9% is by the public following Mobistar's initial public offering of shares on Euronext Brussels in October 1998.