ICASA releases emergency lockdown spectrum

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 17 Apr 2020
ICASA acting chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.
ICASA acting chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has assigned temporary spectrum, announcing Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Liquid Telecom and Rain among the recipients.

This comes after ICASA said last week it had received 35 applications for additional temporary spectrum amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, which is scheduled to end on 30 April.

In line with the ministerial policy directions for the coronavirus pandemic, ICASA gazetted regulations that prescribe minimum standards that licensees must adhere to for the COVID-19 lockdown.

One of the critical measures is that temporary high-demand spectrum is released for the duration of the lockdown to ease network congestion, maintain good quality of broadband services for consumers, and enable service providers to lower cost of access.

ICASA considered applications for temporary spectrum in the following bands: 700MHz, 800MHz, 2 300MHz, 2 600MHz and 3 500MHz, as well as the use of television whites paces (TVWS).

According to ICASA, out of all applications received, only 17 were found to be in line with the criteria and conditions outlined in annexure A of the regulations.

The regulation, says the authority, required all prospective applicants to provide the network performance report before the COVID-19 outbreak with the currently assigned spectrum holding; as well as to provide the modelled network performance with the additional spectrum they require, among others.

The telecoms regulator states it exercised extreme care in the assignment of this temporary spectrum to existing licensees in order to achieve the objectives of the COVID-19 regulations.

Furthermore, in most of the assignments, applicants were granted additional spectrum as applied for. However, there are a few exceptional cases where ICASA says it had to apply practical and non-discriminatory principles to ensure no licensee is prejudiced.

“I would really like to express my deepest gratitude to all applicants and licensees alike; and I believe the spectrum will be used efficiently as well as optimally for the benefit of all South Africans. This will indeed bridge the communications divide during this difficult period of our lifetime,” says ICASA acting chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

700MHz to 800MHz bands

In these particular bands, which ICASA describes as in demand, spectrum was allocated to three of the applicants.

According to ICASA, due to the fact that analogue and digital TV broadcasting services are still operating in the 700MHz and 800MHz frequency bands, sharing and co-existence in these frequency bands would have to be implemented systematically through a geographic separation of International Mobile Telecommunication systems and broadcasting services in affected areas in accordance with the updated 2013 terrestrial broadcasting frequency plan as published.

The receiving applicants in these spectrum bands are: Vodacom, MTN and Telkom.

All three mobile operators have been temporarily assigned 40MHz.

2 300MHz and 2 600MHz bands

ICASA indicates Telkom has been temporarily assigned 20MHz in addition to the 60MHz it already has in the 2 300MHz.

Staying with the 2 300MHz band, the regulator has temporarily assigned 20MHz to Vodacom.

In regards to the assignment of spectrum in the 2 600MHz band, ICASA reveals the total amount of available spectrum in this band is 170MHz.

As a result, the applicants assigned spectrum in this band include Telkom which receives 40MHz, Vodacom has been temporarily assigned 50MHz, MTN also temporarily gets 50MHz, while Rain is assigned 30MHz in addition to the 20MHz it already has in this band.

3 500MHz band

The total amount of available spectrum in this band is 116MHz, says ICASA.

As in other bands, the temporary assignments in the 3 500MHz band were made on the principles of non-discrimination to all qualifying applicants, it adds.

Therefore, in this spectrum band, Telkom is assigned 12MHz out of the 32MHz applied for.

“It is important to note that Telkom is currently assigned 28MHz in the 3 500MHz band and was assigned 12MHz to afford it adequate capacity spectrum to meet the demand occasioned by the pandemic during this period.

“Vodacom has been temporarily assigned 50MHz as applied for, MTN has been temporarily assigned 50MHz out of the 70MHz applied for, Liquid Telecom has been temporarily assigned 4MHz, which adds to the 56MHz it already has in this band.”

TVWS spectrum

In addition to the aforementioned spectrum bands, the regulator has authorised the use of TVWS during the national state of disaster.

It states that it received applications from Mthinte Communications, Levin Global and Morai Solutions for the use of TVWS in the 470MHz – 694MHz band.

The authorisation for use of TVWS by these applicants was granted subject to the following conditions:

  • The applicant must obtain approval from the CSIR, in conjunction with the authority, with respect to Geo-Location Secondary Database connectivity for compliance with the use of TVWS in South Africa.
  • The applicant must obtain type approval certification from ICASA for its electronic communications equipment.
  • In the event that harmful interference occurs to existing broadcasters, the applicant must immediately terminate its services and notify the authority accordingly.

ICASA concludes by emphasising the conditions associated with the temporary spectrum assignment are such that all successful licensees must ensure they support and create virtual teaching and classrooms as determined by the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies in various districts during the National State of Disaster.

In addition, all radio frequency spectrum licensees must zero-rate all COVID-19 sites as identified from time to time by the Department of Health and published in the Government Gazette.