Apple faces prospect of fines over iPhone 4G blocking in Belgium

Apple faces prospect of fines over iPhone 4G blocking in Belgium

Summary: Mobile makers can no longer block 4G access for certain networks on their devices - a decision that's largely targeted at Apple.

TOPICS: Mobility, 4G, Apple, EU

The Belgian Council of Ministers has ruled that mobile phone makers can no longer block 4G for certain carriers.

Although the ruling applies to all phone manufacturers, the decision is mainly targeted at  Apple, which has been consistently blocking iPhone users' access to the 4G networks of Belgian telcos Proximus and Base.

Preferred partner

The reason for the block is that Apple has made 4G access available to iPhones on its preferred partner first — in Belgium's case, that's Mobistar. The problem, however, is that Mobistar doesn't have a 4G network yet, whereas competitors Proximus and Base both do.

Although Apple does sometimes grant 4G access to networks other than its preferred partner, it requires those companies to subject their 4G network to a certification process, which can involve significant costs for mobile operators.

As a result, a situation has arisen in Belgium in which Apple's preferred partner Mobistar has certification, but no 4G network, whereas Proximus and Base both have 4G networks, but not certification.

Lack of 4G support

Late last year, Coralie Miserque, corporate affairs manager at Base, said Apple had made it hard for the company to get 4G support.

"It was a true obstacle course; after months and months of  (fruitless) attempts to approach Apple, Base finally received a typical Apple answer that the certification process was pending and would require some time. But how much time, the company refused to specify," she wrote in a blogpost.

"It seems that Apple continues to protect its preferred partner in Belgium and refuses to certify its two competitors or at least is delaying the process until Mobistar has deployed its own 4G network. And this is not an exception, in other countries, Apple often grants its preferred partners 4G access months before anyone else." 

Threat of fines

The situation has not just sparked the anger of the Belgian telcos and consumers, but Belgian politicians as well.

As a result, economy minister Johan Vande Lanotte put forward a proposal that would require mobile phone manufacturers to allow their smartphones to be used on any suitable network, a proposal that was approved by the Belgian Council of Ministers.

The decision means that, should Apple choose to ignore the requirement, it can now be fined for non-compliance, although the amount of such fine is yet to be disclosed. However, Belgian newspaper De Morgen said the threat of penalties is unlikely to change Apple's strategy in the country.

"It seems very unlikely that Apple will actually comply with the requirement of the Belgian government. After all, the company has plenty of money and can easily ride this thing out until Mobistar has deployed its 4G network," it said

More from Belgium

Topics: Mobility, 4G, Apple, EU

Martin Gijzemijter

About Martin Gijzemijter

Martin began his IT career in 1998 covering games and gadgets, only to discover that the scope of his interests extended far beyond that. Ironically, where he used to cover 'anything with a plug', he now focuses on the wireless world. A self-pronounced Apple enthusiast who can't live without his Windows PC, he writes tech news, reviews and tutorials for the Dutch market and stories about flying elephants for his two sons.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • No one wants Mobistar

    And certainly not Apple users.

    Mobistar is the budget choice, with by far the worst network out of the three carriers. Their tardiness in getting a 4G network up and running isn't helping.

    They do have their USPs, but those aren't relevant to iPhone users.
  • rotten Apple again

    rotten Apple again
    every-one who uses an iPhone deserves that due to ignoring rotten behaviour by Apple, just facts:

    Apple sued for collecting and selling customers’ personal info.

    Because of Apple we have to pay more for eBooks in the whole world - Apple played 'central role' in ebook price-fixing conspiracy

    Apple Inc is using anti-competitive iPhone sales tactics and technical restrictions to squeeze out rival smartphone makers from the European market?

    Steve Jobs: "We are shameless about stealing"
    Jiří Pavelec
    • The article omits the fact that the reason why Apple does not allow 4G ...

      ... working is that those new 4G networks still can not automatically switch to 3G for voice communications.

      Apple has similar issues in many countries. And not only Apple, by the way. Some other manufacturers also block 4G until voice switching works smoothly.
      • it would be a nice surprise if it was not the Apple's bad intention again :

        it would be a nice surprise if it was not the Apple's bad intention again :)
        Jiří Pavelec
  • Pun intended?

    (...) after months and months of (fruitless) attempts to approach Apple (...)
    • Fruitless

      Very much so. Thanks for noticing!
      Martin Gijzemijter