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ICASA to raise R200m as operators get provisional spectrum

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Telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) on Friday issued provisional spectrum to six telco operators.

From this provisional spectrum, the telecoms regulator expects to raise R200 million, which will give a boost to the national fiscus.

This, after the regulator this month invited the operators to apply for the provisional spectrum after it earlier told them to return the temporary spectrum by the end on November. ICASA had awarded the telcos the temporary spectrum in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The move to return the temporary spectrum was met with resistance from the telcos, who took ICASA to court saying SA was still in a National State of Disaster as a result of the pandemic and that the regulator was still to auction the much needed spectrum.

It was also the telcos’ argument that taking back the temporary spectrum would jeopardise mobile data supply in SA.

The operators have largely used the temporary spectrum to launch 5G services and cater for the increased data demand as more people took to working and learning from home.

Analysts recently told ITWeb that by releasing the provisional spectrum, ICASA was making a tacit admission that it erred in withdrawing the temporary spectrum issued to mobile network operators at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ICASA has set its sights on auctioning spectrum in March next year.

Six for the money

In its statement today, ICASA says it has concluded its analysis of applications for provisional assignment of radio frequency spectrum under the new ICT COVID-19 National State of Disaster Regulations 2021, and resolved to grant licences to six electronic communications network operators.

It notes that the licences are valid for a period of seven months, commencing from 1 December 2021, and ending on 30 June 2022 – or three months after the termination of the National State of Disaster – whichever comes first.

The regulator says by the closing date on 17 November 2021, it had received six applications, from Rain Networks, Vodacom, Cell C, Telkom, Liquid Intelligence Technologies, and MTN.

“All the applications for provisional spectrum assignments were considered in accordance with the criteria and conditions stipulated in the ICT COVID-19 National State of Disaster Regulations,” says ICASA in a statement.

The licences are issued in respect of radio frequency spectrum for the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2600 MHz and 3500 MHz bands.

700/800 MHz band

The authority received four applications for provisional radio frequency spectrum assignment in the IMT 700 band from: MTN, Telkom, Vodacom and Rain Networks.

ICASA says upon consideration of the applications, the following assignments of provisional spectrum were granted in the IMT700 MHz band:

1. MTN – 10 MHz

2. Telkom – 20 MHz

3. Vodacom – 10 MHz

4. Rain Networks – 20 MHz

According to ICASA, it received five applications for provisional radio frequency spectrum assignment in the IMT 800 band from MTN, Telkom, Vodacom, Rain Networks and Cell C.

It says upon consideration of the applications, the following assignments of provisional spectrum were granted in the IMT800 band:

1. MTN – 10 MHz

2. Telkom – 20 MHz

3. Vodacom – 10 MHz

4. Cell C – 20 MHz

“Since analogue and digital television broadcasting services still occupy parts of the 700 MHz and 800 MHz radio frequency bands, the authority urges licensees to share and co-ordinate usage in these frequency bands through a geographic separation of International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT) Systems and broadcasting services in affected areas, and in accordance with the Terrestrial Broadcasting Frequency Plan, 2013, as published,” says the regulator.

Provisional assignment in the 2300 MHz band

The authority received only one application for provisional radio frequency spectrum assignment in the IMT2300 band, from Telkom.

To this end, ICASA says, Telkom was duly awarded 40 MHz of provisional spectrum in this band.

Provisional assignments in the 2600 MHz band

The authority received five applications for provisional radio frequency spectrum assignment in the IMT 2600 band from Telkom, MTN, Vodacom, Rain Networks, and Cell C.

Upon consideration of the applications, ICASA says, the following assignments for provisional spectrum were granted in the IMT2600 band:

1. Telkom – 10 MHz

2. MTN – 40 MHz

3. Vodacom – 40 MHz

4. Rain Networks – 60 MHz

5. Cell C – 20 MHz.

Provisional assignments in the 3500 MHz band

The authority received five applications for provisional RFS assignments in the IMT 3500 band from Telkom, MTN, Vodacom, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, Rain Networks and Cell C.

Upon consideration of the applications, ICASA says, the following assignments for provisional spectrum were granted in the IMT3500 band:

1. Telkom – 12 MHz

2. MTN – 40 MHz

3. Vodacom – 40 MHz

4. Liquid Intelligent Technologies – 4 MHz

5. Cell C = 20 MHz

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

The chairperson of ICASA, Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, expressed his gratitude to all the applicants, and emphasised the need to use these provisional assignments as a step towards urgently finalising the permanent high-demand spectrum licensing process.

“This provisional spectrum assignment remains an interim measure, intended to improve communication services for consumers in the intervening period, with the goal being to permanently license the spectrum through an auction commencing in March 2022. This provisional licensing phase attempts temporarily to address competition concerns and levy appropriate fees, but a more all-inclusive regime will be yielded through a competitive bidding approach,” says Modimoeng.

ICASA points out that all licensees will be required to pay a spectrum acquisition fee, as well as a spectrum usage fee, in addition to the up-front application fee.

Through this provisional spectrum assignment arrangement and its related fees (for acquisition, spectrum usage and application), the authority says it will, in the short term, raise about R200 million for the national fiscus.

“This provisional radio frequency spectrum regime is confirmation that the temporary spectrum issued in April 2020 ceases to exist on 30 November 2021, and that the provisional spectrum assignment arrangement becomes effective from 1 December 2021,” it concludes.

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