Industry still pushing for spectrum

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Spectrum has long been one of the major bones of contention between the industry and ICASA.
Spectrum has long been one of the major bones of contention between the industry and ICASA.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) must speed up the process of spectrum assignment, including the use of extremely high-frequency (EHF) spectrum for high-speed broadband, say ICT industry players.

This, to the end of realising the country's broadband ambitions as laid out in SA Connect, SA's broadband policy that advocates more affordable broadband access for all.

However, ICASA currently has no framework for frequencies above 30GHz and has openly said its 2014/15 performance plan does not include the licensing of EHF (50GHz to 80GHz).

Despite this, industry observers and service providers continue to push and have been vocal critics of the "slow pace" at which the regulator is moving on spectrum allocation, with the first Future Wireless Technologies Forum (FWTF) last week - a talk shop intended to get the ball rolling - highlighting the inclusive drive to open up spectrum options.

Spectrum is one of the major bones of contention between the regulator and the industry at the moment.

Forum takeaways

The Wireless Access Providers' Association (WAPA) - which initiated the FWTF - says the consultation presented an opportunity for service providers, equipment manufacturers, government stakeholders and ICASA to discuss the possibilities, challenges and commercial implications around wireless technologies.

The focus at the moment is SA's regulatory framework, as well as the technical and business rationale for solutions in the millimetre wave (mmW) band, especially V-Band (60GHz) and E-Band (70GHz and 80GHz).

WAPA noted SA could be making use of EHF spectrum for high-speed connections, but that it was up to the regulator.

Here are some key takeaways:

1. In heavy rain, transmissions in V-Band suffer dramatically, which is one of the reasons why it is licence-exempt or light-licensed in many other countries. SA's weather - being relatively dry by worldwide standards ? makes it an ideal candidate for regulation promoting commercial use in these bands.
2. Neotel, one of the most vocal critics of the slow pace of spectrum assignment, noted the company has had test licences for four years but is still waiting on the regulatory and pricing framework to commercialise this.
3. Internet Solutions says wireless broadband links could be deployed much faster than fibre and can therefore form medium-term solutions for high-speed connectivity.
4. Government's Linden Petzer says EHF bands will play a key role in achieving the objectives of SA Connect.
5. ICASA councillor William Stucke (speaking in his personal capacity) says regulations must follow due process according to mandated review cycles.
6. Recent amendments to the Electronic Communications Act and ICASA Act should allow ICASA to respond more quickly to demands.
7. A framework for the TV white space bands is due to be finalised by the end of this financial year, according to Stucke.
8. Ronnie Seeber, ICASA's GM of engineering and technology, says there is a project in the current budget to review the regulation and/or pricing of the 50GHz to 80GHz range.

WAPA says it will publish a white paper on spectrum policy in the coming weeks. "This aims to serve as the basis for a series of continued discussions between the regulator and industry, which can work together within the framework of the FWTF to promote and prioritise spectrum regulation and allocation by applying international best practices to our sector."

Deal delays

Independent telecoms researcher Samantha Perry notes the Neotel/Vodacom deal that is currently up in the air is all about spectrum. She says ICASA has to approve the transfer of spectrum from Neotel to Vodacom - a reality that may ultimately scupper the deal.

ICASA notes there have been insinuations in the media to the effect that merger and acquisition deals in SA's ICT sector (including Vodacom and Neotel, MTN and Telkom, and Telkom's bid to acquire Business Connexion) are due to the regulator's lag in allocating or making more spectrum available.

In its defence, the authority says, in 2011, it attempted to open up the licensing process for high demand spectrum (2.6GHz and 800MHz) by issuing an invitation to apply. "The industry partly opposed this process on the basis of a lack of a policy direction. This process was subsequently deferred pending the finalisation of the policy direction."

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