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ICASA dismisses Telkom displeasure with temporary spectrum

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The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has rebuffed claims by Telkom that it erroneously assigned spectrum already licensed to the telco in the IMT2300 band.

The communications regulator says Telkom’s argument is premature and misdirected in the context of the temporary assignment of spectrum for purposes of the COVID-19 regulations.

ICASA notes that in terms of Regulation 6(2) of the COVID-19 regulations, the regulator is empowered to temporarily assign radio frequency spectrum during the national disaster period.

“Furthermore, in assigning the temporary radio frequency spectrum for the national disaster period, the authority may deviate from the Radio Frequency Assignment Plans (RFSAPs). The temporary assignments in the IMT2300 band were made within this context,” says ICASA.

This week, Telkom expressed reservations about ICASA’s decision to release temporary spectrum, saying: “It appears ICASA has assigned spectrum already licensed to Telkom in the IMT2300 band. The emergency regulation does not give ICASA the right to expropriate currently assigned spectrum.”

ICASA last week assigned temporary spectrum to operators, with Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Liquid Telecom and Rain among the recipients.

Now, ICASA tells Telkom the 40MHz spectrum from 2 360MHz to 2 400MHz is available to be licensed to mobile services (Time Division Duple or TDD).

“In terms of the IMT2300 RFSAP, the mobile services will co-exist with the fixed service.”

It explains: “In the context of Telkom’s existing fixed links in the 2 300MHz band which are deployed in FDD, the temporary assignments of spectrum in terms of the COVID-19 regulations are granted on the basis that the temporary users of the mobile service portion should, where possible, coordinate with fixed services.”

Moreover, ICASA confirms in terms of the IMT2300 RFSAP, “the contemplated release of radio frequency spectrum in the IMT2300 band on a permanent basis, post the duration of the temporary licences assigned during the COVID-19 national disaster period, is to be subject to fulfilment of the provisions of regulation 8.1 of the IMT2300 RFSAP.

“This regulation (8.1) provides that the scope for new assignments in the IMT2300 band will be identified in a feasibility study to be carried out.”

ICASA acting chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.
ICASA acting chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

ICASA acting chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng comments: “It is important to note that ICASA is the custodian of spectrum resources (including the licensing thereof) on behalf of the people of South Africa. It therefore follows that in instances of dispute, ICASA’s position must be premised on consistent and fair application of the law and regulations.

“We do not agree with Telkom's view as regards the inherent conditions of their existing 2.3GHz band spectrum assignment. This calls for a cordial engagement, without spurious allegations of 'expropriation' as seen in the media.”

Other mobile operators have broadly reacted favourably to the decision by ICASA to temporarily release spectrum.

Vodacom welcomed the ICASA decision, saying “the temporary assignment of spectrum will help alleviate network congestion during the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa”.

Vodacom’s application for temporary spectrum in all of the 700, 800, 2300, 2 600 and 3 500MHz bands was approved.

Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub said: “Vodacom remains focused on providing the highest quality network service to all of its customers during and beyond the COVID-19 lockdown period and we will continue to support the South African government’s efforts to flatten the curve in whatever way we can.

“The temporary spectrum which we have been assigned will go a long way towards alleviating network congestion in the coming weeks, and in the event that the lockdown period is extended further.”

Similarly, MTN accepted the decision. Jacqui O'Sullivan, executive: corporate affairs at MTN SA, said: “We have effectively had to build ourselves out of the problem. More spectrum means capex spend can be reduced. As a direct consequence of this temporary spectrum allocation, MTN will be bringing additional lower cost pricing options to customers, to help ease the financial pressures we know so many South Africans are facing right now.

“We will share details of the pricing as soon as the additional spectrum has been deployed.”

MTN said its immediate focus will be in deploying the spectrum, which will significantly ease the congestion it had seen in hotspots across the country.

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