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Ndabeni-Abrahams issues policy direction on spectrum

Johannesburg, 26 Jul 2019
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.

Communications and digital technologies minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, has issued the long-awaited policy and policy direction for the licensing of high-demand spectrum, paving the way for wholesale open access network (WOAN) licensing.

This comes after minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, announced yesterday that Cabinet had approved the policy.

Mobile operators have been waiting for years for allocation of 4G 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.

In a Government Gazette issued today, Ndabeni-Abrahams says: “She recognises that 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.”

She adds: “The deployment of a WOAN will encourage licensees to work together as far as it is practicable. Government fully supports a WOAN as a means to meet the public policy objectives.

“High-demand spectrum maybe assigned to a WOAN and the remaining high-demand spectrum maybe assigned to other electronic communications network service licensees, which spectrum assignment processes must commence simultaneously.”

The idea of a WOAN was proposed as part of the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, published in 2016. It calls for a shake-up of the previous policy framework for spectrum allocation in favour of an "open access regime" with the WOAN outlined as a "public-private sector owned and managed consortium".    

Last year, Ndabeni-Abrahams’ department engaged the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to conduct a study to determine the amount of spectrum needed for WOAN.

The CSIR provided recommendations on the high-demand spectrum required by the WOAN to ensure its viability and sustainability on the basis of a 20% market share; and access high-demand spectrum for other electronic communications licensees.  

SMMEs have been crying for inclusion across the country’s industries, but most importantly the ICT sector. According to the ICT Chamber, a WOAN is the viable option for creating new business opportunities for ICT SMMEs, as well as new entrants to the sector.

In the Gazette, Ndabeni-Abrahams says: “ICASA [Independent Communications Authority of SA] must consider that the WOAN should provide wholesale open access to its electronic communications networks and facilities, and provide wholesale capacity, upon request, to any other person licensed in terms of the Electronics Communications Act and persons providing services pursuant to a licence exemption, on terms that are effective, transparent and non-discriminatory.”  

Meanwhile, ICASA today issued a tender bid calling for a company and/or consultant to provide consultancy services “to assist it with determination of the fair economic value of the IMT700, IMT800, IMT2300, IMT2600 and IMT3500 radio frequency spectrum and the drafting of the invitation to apply on an 80/20 PPPFA 2000, Preferential Procurement Regulation: 2017.”

It further notes: “The bid will be evaluated on: (a) submission of the required documents, (b) functionality, (c) and on PPPFA preference points system. Only bidders who meet the cut-off score of 80 points for functionality will be considered further for price evaluation. The bid will be evaluated on 80/20 preference points system.”

Interested parties have until 20 August to respond to the tender (ICASA 19/ 2019(b). A non-compulsory briefing session will be held on 6 August for this tender.

Click here to read the full policy document.