ICASA defends WiFi confiscation

Paul Vecchiatto
By Paul Vecchiatto, ITWeb Cape Town correspondent
Cape Town, 20 Feb 2009

The telecommunications regulator has the right, under the Electronic Communications Act, to seal and prevent the use of equipment that is considered to be the source of interference with a licensed operator's operations, says the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA).

ICASA was reacting to reports that its inspectors had confiscated WiFi equipment used by alternative telecoms operator Dabba a week ago in Orange Farm, a poor sprawling township outside of Johannesburg.

Sites from which the equipment was taken include an Aids orphanage, a skills development centre and an Internet caf'e.

The regulator insists the devices confiscated were not type approved and that, although the 2.4GHz frequency upon which they were operating is not licensed, it is obliged by law to act in favour of a licensed operator.

However, Dabba and Miro Distribution, which supply the devices, contend they are type approved by ICASA. Miro states this on its and the Wireless Application Providers Association's Web sites.

“We are rigorous in ensuring the equipment we supply is type approved,” says Miro service manager Nadine Fenn. “The Ubiquity Nanostations are most definitely type approved and the required stickers should have been on the equipment.”

Telkom complaint

ICASA says it was acting on a complaint laid by Telkom that it was experiencing interference with its equipment in that area. Subsequent investigations showed Dabba was the source of that interference and that Dabba's equipment was not type approved, it notes.

“Telkom laid a complaint about interference with the authority [ICASA] on their 2.4GHz links. The authority is obliged by law to act and investigate all sources of interference in the frequency spectrum,” it adds.

As with many other regulators, ICASA type-approves all equipment to prevent interference among users of the frequency spectrum and prevent dropped calls for mobile telephone users. Type approvals are also used to prevent hazards to health and the environment and the dumping of obsolete equipment.


ICASA also says the 2.4GHz frequency band is an industrial, scientific and medical band used by these respective industries. Although this band is exempted from licensing, it must still adhere to type approval.

We are rigorous in ensuring the equipment we supply is type approved.

Nadine Fenn, service manager, Miro Distribution

“However, it must be noted that in instances where interference occurs, the rights of the licensed operator supersede those of the unlicensed operator. In this case, the authority had to act in favour of Telkom,” ICASA says. “This is the context in which the investigation was launched, and the confiscated equipment is in the authority's possession.”

Dabba MD Rael Lissoos says he still has had no official word from ICASA as to why the equipment was actually taken.

“Every time I have contacted someone from ICASA I have been referred higher up the management chain, until one person said the only way I can get an answer is to write to the chairperson [Paris Mashile] directly,” he says.

Miro's Fenn says it is going to donate equipment to Dabba to re-link the Orange Farm sites.

“We cannot have the whole of Orange Farm going down like this and the equipment will be provided with copies of the type approval so that people can re-establish their connectivity as soon as possible,” Fenn notes.

She says Miro works hard with ICASA and its clients to ensure all equipment is type approved.

Related story:
ICASA slammed for `Gestapo` tactics