Brussels halts 5G plans over radiation rules

The Belgian government has decided to halt a 5G pilot project in Brussels over concerns that the new cellular standard cannot meet the city's strict radiation rules.

Brussels has some of the strictest radiation regulations for telecom equipment in the world, which has hampered the deployment of cellular technologies in the region, including 4G LTE and 5G.

The European Commission has asked each member state to select one city to be 5G-ready by 2020 as part of the EU’s 5G Action Plan for a Digital Single Market. But, Brussels, the unofficial capital of the EU may be left behind if it cannot adapt its radiation standards.

Last year, three of Belgium’s telecom operators were able to strike a deal with the government to relax the radiation rules in Brussels in order to roll out a 5G pilot in the city, according to local media reports. In late 2018, Orange Belgium announced it would deploy 5G networks in Brussels. But, environment minister Céline Fremault has decided to halt the project because it’s too difficult to measure the radiation exposure from the new service.

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“I cannot welcome such technology if the radiation standards, which must protect the citizen, are not respected, 5G or not,” Fremault said, as reported in The Brussels Times. “The people of Brussels are not guinea pigs whose health I can sell at a profit. We cannot leave anything to doubt.”

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Last year, Fremault and Alexander De Croo, Belgium’s telecom minister, called for a technical study on whether 5G deployments could co-exist with Brussels' current radiation rules of 6 volts per meter. Those rules are 50 times stricter than international standards.

The Belgian Institute of Postal and Telecommunications Services, which performed the study, concluded that “no new radio frequency can now be brought into service” unless the city relaxes the radiation rules, according to The Brussels Times. It recommend the city adopt a higher standard of 14.5 V/m, with the capacity to go up to 41.5 V/m, in order to support 5G technologies. The government had agreed to adapt the regulations to support Orange Belgium's 5G network deployment.