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Release of 5G spectrum won’t be delayed, minister promises

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Durban, 28 Oct 2019
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.

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, minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has promised.

The communications and digital technologies head was addressing government officials and industry stakeholders yesterday, during a ministerial session ahead of GovTech 2019.

Ndabeni-Abrahams stated: “…you can be great as the industry but if as the lawmakers we are frustrating you by not releasing spectrum because we are looking at A, B, C and D – nobody gets to benefit.

“We will lose so much, as we have lost with the 4G [spectrum]…we delayed so much with 4G. I’m committing to one thing: we are not going to delay with 5G.

“But we are not going to allow what happened in the past to happen with 5G, as much as we’re not going to delay. We’ve got to make sure we use that opportunity to transform South Africa and the industry, and give people an opportunity to participate.”

South Africa’s 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.

Prior to issuing the policy direction on high-demand spectrum and the wholesale open access network in July, the administration, including president Cyril Ramaphosa, committed to resolve the drawn-out issue of licensing high-demand radio frequency spectrum.

With more than a decade since the last big set of spectrum was issued, recent promises from government indicated 4G spectrum would be allocated in 2019 and then spectrum suitable for 5G in 2020.

Today marks the official start of the government technology conference hosted by the State IT Agency (SITA). This year, the event is hosted under the theme “Digital transformation: Gearing towards the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and beyond”.

Ndabeni-Abrahams highlighted that dialogue on investment continues, adding that is in line with efforts to ensure SA grows its gross domestic product, leveraging digital technologies and 4IR.

She told the audience that SITA is being repurposed. “The SITA that you know or knew in the past is not what you are going to be seeing in 2020/2021.

“The portfolios in terms of the departments of communications and telecommunications and postal services are going to be one portfolio under the communications and digital technologies department. Key to this is the new set of skills that are required.

“We are coming from that environment that was voice-centric…in the fourth industrial revolution the new oil is data. Therefore, the laws and regulations have to give effect to a data-centric environment.

“This starts with how government makes policies and the procurement processes of government.”

The minister expressed that this year’s GovTech is taking a different approach to ensure it isn’t a cheap talk platform, but will rather build on the deliberations that take place. “This is so that they [deliberations] find expressions in the work of the Presidential Commission on 4IR and if this means changing the law, we go and change it.

“As lawmakers, we don’t know it all. You as industry players must tell us your challenges and we will tell you what we want to achieve and then together we will find each other and deliver each other’s aspirations.” 

GovTech 2019 is taking place at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban until Wednesday.