huaweiWorking all over the EU as I do is more or less only possible thanks to mobile internet – I have 3G and tethering on my iPhone when in Denmark (notionally home), and 3G data sim cards for a Huawei Mifi in the UK, Belgium, Germany and Austria. Now of course there are some contraints to 3G anyway – it is not especially good in rural areas, or when on a fast-moving train, and it’s maximum data rate is limited. But for general, everyday e-mail and web browsing it’s perfectly usable.

Only not in Brussels any more.

In Belgium my 3G is with Jim Mobile, a part of the BASE network. Coverage on BASE around the EU institutions where I most often work was always patchy – either no signal, or a decent connection that worked. Yet for the last 6 months, and notably in the last month, the data speed has plunged, even in areas with a full 3G or HSDPA signal. Today websites would not load at all at Schuman, Place Jourdan or Place Flagey. Signal strength showed as 2 out or 5 bars at Schuman, and 5 out of 5 in Jourdan and Flagey.

What the hell is going on?

Both Ryan Heath and Andy Carling have told me about the problems mobile phone firms have had getting approval for 4G masts in Brussels, but I was unaware that the same 3V/m standard that prevents 4G rollout is now having an impact on 2G and 3G networks too, as detailed on BASE’s blog here (Sept 2012) and here (April 2013). The situation is so severe that even BECI (Brussels Enterprises Commerce and Industry) has got involved in the issue. Interestingly indoor sites – including the Brussels Metro – have longer to comply… and in the Metro is more or less the only place I can actually get a 3G connection!

BASE says it simply cannot find the locations to add the extra masts it needs to maintain its coverage, and with any political decision to solve the issue in Brussels kicked until 2014, and with data use doubling each year, this issue is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. And all this in the city that hosts the EU institutions that are trying to legislate to improve broadband speeds… Do the Brussels politicians who have forced the 3V/m standard just never use smartphones I wonder?


  1. BASE user here

    Hey man, just an update for August 2015: signal is still average. I work in an EU office 50 m from Schuman and I barely get Edge. Whatsap texts (no images or anything) go through but with significant delay. If I need to send something and be sure it works I have to go on the other side of the corridor where I get 3G.

    Looking forward to 2016’s update lol. Cheers

  2. April 2014 status: I work in an EU institution building and I see no improvement of the signal strenght at office. I changed like 3-4 providers and the best I could get indoors is EDGE signal. In terms of speed, this is equivalent with the old dial-up fix internet. This is very disappointing.

  3. Yes, it has indeed improved a little.

  4. @Azer – yes! I was wondering about it just today, when I actually managed to get a 3G connection close to the EP. I wonder what happened to make it better?

  5. I feel the 3G speed has improved since then around EU area. Do you have the same feeling?

  6. Yes, very interesting development.

    Until recently I had just no mobile internet at my workplace in the middle of EU area in Brussels. Now I also have no more phone connection. Most of the time my iPhone just says “no network”.

    But it still looks to me like a bit of a power game between Brussels and the mobile operators. How much effort did BASE really make to look for new site for antenna masts?

    I would be interested to get a view from the other side: have you seen any good report that also covers the point of view from Brussels’ politicians / ministers?

  7. I’m just surprised that there seems to be a single standard for all of Brussels, instead of 27 separate ones. Count your blessings…

  8. @Otto – so you think it’s sensible to set the maximum power of a mast at 1/400th of the international standard?

  9. Reads like environmental legislation is cramping your lifestyle choices and suddenly it ain’t as much fun for you as in those cases when it’s just other people getting hassled.

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