ImageThe Council of the Belgian Institute for Postal services and Telecommunications (BIPT) has issued a Communication, dated 28 Oct 2004, which addresses the conditions under which Belgacom, the fixed incumbent operator, is allowed to roll-out VDSL in the copper access network, whilst preserving the future possibility for other operators, making use of local loop unbundling, to apply other technologies, in particular ADSL2+ and Enhanced SDSL.

xDSL technology choices have been under discussion for several years in Belgium, in particular in the Task Group Spectrum Management which functions under the auspices of the BIPT and advises the BIPT on copper spectrum management. T-REGS is a regular participant in this Task Group.

Belgacom has, in recent months, made clear that it wishes to roll-out VDSL, from local exchanges (LEXs), and from points lower in the network hierarchy, including local distribution centres (LDCs) and street cabinets (KVDs), so as to be able to achieve downstream bandwidths in excess of 15 Mbit/s to pursue a ‘triple play’ (telephony, Internet and VoD/TV/iTV/HDTV) strategy. On 30 March 2004, Belgacom formally filed User to Network Interface (UNI) specifications concerning the transmission and interface characteristics of VDSL services. These were the subject of a public consultation organised by the BIPT, to which other operators responded that they wished to experiment with ADSL2+, and that they perceived risks of exclusion due to spectral incompatibility problems.

The specific issue at stake is the use of the 1.1 – 2.2. MHz band of the copper network (which is used by both VDSL and ADSL2+), and whether exclusivity should be granted to one xDSL technology (or another) to avoid major signal degradation, and what the effects would be on the development of competition if particular options are chosen.

The BIPT Communication formulates conclusions as follows:

– Belgacom is authorised to roll-out VDSL in the 1.1 – 2.2. MHz band, using ETSI frequency plan 998, and using the DMT (discrete multitone) modulation. The BIPT also expresses its preparedness to consider a flexible frequency plan (“Fx”) which would deviate from ETSI frequency plan 998, subject to its explicit approval.

– Belgacom must, however, anticipate in good faith on developments that are considered by the BIPT to be within the realm of the reasonably possible in the future, in particular the possible development and commercialisation by other operators of services based on ADSL2+ and Enhanced SDSL.

– The BIPT reserves the possibility of authorising, in the future, the utilisation of both VDSL and ADSL2+ in the 1.1 – 2.2. MHz band. The BIPT recognises, and states, that this would inevitably require Belgacom to adapt its VDSL-based services, and that Belgacom can choose to do this by reducing the capacity utilised by VDSL (in terms of the utilisation of the copper spectrum) or by ensuring co-existence of VDSL (deployed from LDCs or KVDs) and ADSL2+ (deployed from LEXs) in terms of power output/signal strength.

– Before implementing VDSL, Belgacom is required to inform the BIPT in sufficient detail of its chosen approach, consistent with the rules set out above.

– The BIPT commits itself to scrupulously supervising the implementation of the above points, in close consultation with all market participants, including Belgacom.

The full text (in French) of the BIPT Communication can be accessed by clicking here. The text in Dutch is accessible by clicking here.

For a discussion of xDSL copper spectrum management issues, which are a subject of intense debate in Belgium and in other EU Member States (currently in particular Denmark, France, Italy and The Netherlands), please contact Yves Blondeel.

Update: On 2 Nov 2004, Belgacom commercially launched VDSL-based services for residential and for business customers, with an initial downstream speed of 9 Mbit/s and upstream speeds ranging from 400 Kbit/s to 640 Kbit/s. Video-on-demand and television services are not yet available, but planned.