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ICASA issues plan to allocate high-demand spectrum

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 01 Nov 2019
Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, ICASA’s acting chairperson.
Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, ICASA’s acting chairperson.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) today published the long-awaited information memorandum on the licensing process for the assignment of the International Mobile Telecommunications spectrum, or what is also referred to as high-demand spectrum.

This spectrum will enable local mobile operators to deploy 5G technology.

The announcement comes after communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said while the wait for 4G spectrum was characterised by years of waiting, that won’t be the case for licensing and assignment of 5G spectrum.

She made the remarks at the just-ended GovTech event.

In his Medium Term Budget Policy Statement on Wednesday, finance minister Tito Mboweni said SA will accelerate the allocation of spectrum as the country is falling behind in the 5G race.

Last month, ICASA said it will, before the end of the third quarter of the fiscal year 2019/2020 (31 December 2019), publish the information memorandum.

The regulator says the licensing of high-demand spectrum is one of the critical components to facilitate deployment of digital infrastructure to ensure all consumers and the business environment participate meaningfully in future ICT opportunities in the digital economy.

ICASA is enjoined in terms of section 3(4) of the Electronic Communications Act 2005 to consider policies and policy directions issued by the minister, says the regulator.

To this end, the authority has considered the policy direction issued by the minister of communications and digital technologies, in July 2019, which consideration informs the authority’s views outlined in the information memorandum, it adds.

Ndabeni-Abrahams issued the policy and policy direction for the licensing of high-demand spectrum, paving the way for wholesale open access network licensing.

Long time coming

Mobile operators have been waiting for years for allocation of spectrum in order to provide faster and more widespread high-speed data services.

The last big set of spectrum issued was in the 2.1GHz band, which helped the operators in their 3G network deployment. Vodacom and MTN were allocated such spectrum, respectively, in 2004 and 2005, while Cell C received such spectrum in 2011.

When issuing the policy direction, Ndabeni-Abrahams said she recognises there are over 400 players that hold electronic communications network service licences but cannot access spectrum, due to its scarcity.

“This has an adverse effect on competition, contributes to the high cost to communicate and serves as a barrier to entry for new entrants and SMMEs. Government is committed to maximising the socio-economic benefits derived from the use of the spectrum and recognises that a shared approach to spectrum use is necessary.”

ICASA notes the information memorandum further provides guidance to stakeholders and prospective applicants on the process and criteria to be applied by the authority in the licensing of the spectrum.

Have your say

“We invite all interested parties to take the opportunity and make submissions to this process. It is in the spirit of administrative justice and fairness that we consult stakeholders so that we can have their views on this imminent licensing process, says Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, ICASA’s acting chairperson.

According to ICASA, the release of high-demand spectrum is an important step that gives effect to government’s policy objectives of ensuring broadband access for all, transformation of the ICT sector, reduction of costs to communicate (particularly data costs), promotion of competition in the ICT sector and stimulation of inclusive economic growth.

“It has been quite a lengthy period of time towards assignment of high-demand spectrum due to some or other challenges we faced as the regulator. However, with the release of the policy direction in the recent past, there is no justification to delay any further,” says Modimoeng.

Interested persons are invited to make written submissions on the views expressed in the information memorandum by no later than 16h00 on Friday, 31 January 2020, as outlined in terms of the published Government Gazette, ICASA says.

Given that the information memorandum is the initial step, and in light of the past delays in the assignment of spectrum, the authority urges stakeholders to make their submissions within the stipulated deadline for submission of representations on the information memorandum, it concludes.

Click here for a copy of the information memorandum on the licensing process for the assignment of the International Mobile Telecommunications spectrum.