On the face of it, the acquisition of native web service supplier EDPnet by Belgium-based Citymesh, which describes itself currently as a telco “challenger” model in its residence market, holds restricted curiosity – to RCR’s enterprise readership, a minimum of. However in methods, the deal tells the unlikely story of a personal 5G tech-co specialist that grew to become a public 5G telco challenger model, while by no means veering from its unique imaginative and prescient to serve the creating Trade 4.0 market.
The circumstances of EDPnet’s troubled possession are fascinating, insofar as the corporate filed for chapter final winter and offered (for €20.5 million) to operator Proximus this spring, just for the native competitors authority to power its resale in the summertime, which is the place ultimately Citymesh stepped in. However the true diversion is to speak about its parallel actions within the personal 5G market – the place Citymesh can hardly be thought of a ‘challenger’ – and discern how all of the items may simply match collectively in a complete Trade 4.0 puzzle.
“We’re a tech-co first, and a telco second,” says Mitch De Geest, chief govt at Citymesh, as a reminder of its roots. He explains away the brand new deal for EDPnet by way of its Digi Belgium three way partnership with Romanian outfit Digi Communications, which (through cable subsidiary RCS & RDS) runs ‘challenger’ networks in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, in addition to its residence nation. De Geest says: “It was the final remaining impartial operator in Belgium; all of the others have been acquired by the massive three operators. It’s a excellent match for our nationwide MNO technique. We’ve got acquired 50,000 fastened line clients and 60 workers – which already know the patron and enterprise markets very effectively.”
In June, Digi Belgium spent €114.33 million for the rights to frequencies within the 700 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, and 3600 MHz spectrum bands. In August, the joint-venture agency introduced a five-year nationwide roaming take care of Proximus to offer cowl whereas it constructed its personal community within the nation; it additionally confirmed the acquisition of 400-odd antenna websites from Proximus to kickstart the rollout. “We acquired the biggest portfolio of [public] spectrum in 2022, however we’re nonetheless rolling out the general public community,” says De Geest. In fact, the deal for EDPnet seems like a helpful piece of enterprise; but it surely’s hardly the true Citymesh story.
As a result of Citymesh, owned by IT group Cegeka, is working three different models in tandem, that are variously extra developed and dynamic than a challenger community promoting straight telecoms to customers – even whether it is in search of to disrupt incumbent operators Proximus, Telenet, and Orange alongside the way in which. Probably the most vital of those is its personal networks enterprise, which owns devoted spectrum for personal LTE and 5G in Belgium at 3.5 GHz (acquired method again in 2015) and a couple of.6 GHz (in 2022); the latter was prolonged final yr with an extra 45MHz (TDD) tranche, acquired from Dense Air. It will possibly additionally make spot utilization of the brand new Digi Belgium airwaves for personal 5G.
“Our spectrum portfolio is stable,” says De Geest. The Dutch regulator has simply declared open season on the parallel 3.6 GHz band within the Netherlands. For its half, Belgium is but to launch devoted mid-band spectrum for particular person enterprises, which implies Citymesh’s licensed 100MHz chunk of the three.5 GHz band, which has multiplied over eight years and stretches into the North Sea, exists as the first automobile for cellular-geared Trade 4.0 within the nation – and has afforded Citymesh an enormous headstart within the world personal mobile market. “No personal spectrum is on the market. However we’ve got our personal, and we’ve been capable of deploy since 2015. We had been one of many very first in Europe,” he says.
All alongside, it has labored with Nokia; generally, sometimes in smaller venues, Citymesh deploys a core community from Athonet as a substitute, says De Geest, however the radio models are all the time from the Finnish agency. Alongside, and virtually as keenly, the identical Citymesh unit is promoting (personal) Wi-Fi on a grand scale – to cities and venues. “We’ve got deployed WI-Fi in 100 cities in Belgium and the Netherlands, and in practice stations and public buildings, and museums and stadiums. It’s a part of a sensible metropolis play, however we’re getting a lot of questions from cities about personal 5G now, too.” The opposite two Citymesh divisions work in tandem with its company networks provide.
At a nationwide infrastructure degree (additionally complementing its public community rollout), Citymesh has a decent-looking Sigfox-based (‘0G’) low-power IoT community working throughout each Belgium and the Netherlands. It acquired the Belgian facet from ENGIE in 2021 and the Dutch facet from VolkerWessels at the beginning of 2023. ENGIE had round 250,000 Sigfox-based IoT gadgets on its community when it offered up. Citymesh has since linked 300,000-odd water meters from Waterlink in Antwerp, and has helpful public references with meals retailer Ardo Group (to trace 400 containers) and hospital group ZNA (for monitoring blood-transport).
De Geest feedback: “There’s numerous stuff happening with IoT, largely for track-and-trace and logistics, but additionally for meters, and different smart-city functions.” The Dutch community is newer; its acquisition timed with Sigfox’s personal rescue from chapter by Taiwan-based Unabiz, and its (probably) extra cautious stewardship of it. However the Citymesh plan is to increase the community into Luxembourg (for the total Benelux expertise), and provide “the overall bundle from 0G to 5G” extra extensively throughout Europe – as a result of connectivity doesn’t cease the place map borders do,” the corporate says. It’s the similar logic, truly, with the general public community rollout, and the acquisition of EDPnet.
“We need to sew all of this collectively, so enterprise IoT functions of every type can roam between personal and public networks.” In addition to cities and city-venues, De Geest lists its shopper and candidate sectors: ports, airports, factories, warehouses. “Faculties and hospitals are choosing up as effectively,” he says. “We’re actually busy.” Its different unit offers with the functions on prime; truly, the formal enterprise unit is devoted to drone providers, and was created following its buy of an area industrial robotics agency known as Drone Division. However industrial IoT and AI options, together with the place they’re mechanised in aerial automobiles, is a greater description of the ultimate piece within the Citymesh jigsaw.
De Geest explains: “Our technique has all the time been to construct options and construct worth, and never simply to construct networks. And so we provide assist with push-to-talk and -video, and with body-cams, digital twins, automated automobiles – on prime of the community layer.” The brand new drones division (Drones Division) has simply launched 70 5G-connected camera-equipped ‘security drones’ to assist native emergency providers in Belgium. The brand new service, branded SENSE, will present “police stations and hearth stations” with a 15-minute visible head-start to gather essential details about incidents earlier than emergency providers arrive on the scene.
“We try to tie it altogether as a bunch,” he says, and he bridles a bit when it’s prompt his speak about being a ‘tech-co’ is sort of a digital-change cliche amongst community operators in the present day. “It’s the different method round. Telcos try to go to the tech facet of issues; whereas we’ve got all the time embedded enterprise know-how throughout all of the layers. And we are actually changing into a telco as effectively – which can be at odds with the pattern. However we’ve got entry to the entire stack – to the tech layer, the community layer, the infrastructure layer, the answer layer.” He says that Citymesh has been reliant till now on incumbents for the nationwide community layer, which generally scuppered offers “due to prices”.
He provides: “It’s completely different with us, as effectively, as a result of we align a lot better with the forms of clients that need personal networks. We’re a B2B participant, at root. B2B is simply one thing we do with Digi. We’re not promoting connectivity however a complete answer. We’re turning connectivity into operational worth. Additionally on the B2B facet, we’ve got our personal core community to do slices, network-as-code, API-driven connections to ERP methods. And we predict 5G exists primarily for B2B functions. Which is why we’re profitable contracts in opposition to the incumbent MNOs, the place 90 p.c of their enterprise is with customers.”