The Belgian internet market is split between Mechelen-based Telenet, which has a leading presence in Flanders, and state-owned Belgacom, which has a majority in Brussels and Wallonia. Both companies also operate in the mobile telephony market, where they lease out their infrastructure to smaller competitors.
Last week, Belgacom upped the ante in the controversial mobile internet market with the announcement that, from 16 April, all internet clients would henceforth have mobile internet as part of their package, at no extra cost. If, in other words, you’re connected via Belgacom for fixed internet at home, then you will now be receiving between 50MB and 250MB a month of mobile internet access for free, to use with smartphone, laptop or tablet. At the same time, download speeds for all mobile users go up to 30MB per second.
For small business and independent clients, the changes come into force on 2 May. The company said the changes would take place automatically, though some users may need to obtain a new SIM card to be able to use the new system.
The announcement came just as consumer organisation Test-Aankoop revealed that mobile internet in Belgium is too expensive on the whole, as a result of the lack of real competition in the market. In addition, the best deals available are mainly offered by small providers such as Scarlet and Mobile Vikings. Telenet led in only one category: the intensive user who burns through four hours of calls, 140 text messages and 200MB of data a month.
Belgacom’s new deal wipes that option from the slate, since that user will now be better off packaging the mobile internet with a Belgacom fixed internet account. Taking mobile internet out of Test-Aankoop’s calculations, the remaining criteria – length of time used making calls and number of text messages – leaves little to choose between all operators.
Meanwhile the European Council and the European Parliament have approved a new price reduction for roaming – the charges applied when calling to or from another country – to come into force on 1 July. At present, roaming charges are still considered extortionately high.
From 1 July, a call made between two countries in the EU can cost a maximum of 29 cents a minute, compared to 42 cents now. Receiving a call from another country will cost at most 8 cents a minute, down from 13 cents now. The cost of a text message goes down from 11 cents to 9 cents. The cost of data roaming, which has in the past led to bills in the thousands of euros for holidaymakers who went online without realising the cost, is cut the deepest, from €2.23 per megabyte to only 70 cents.