The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has proposed a new framework to license radio frequency spectrum in high demand, which will enable telecoms network operators to roll out faster and higher capacity next-generation technology for broadband services.
The process is expected to lower the unit costs of providing wireless broadband capacity and create jobs as the market opens up to new players.
The industry regulator will license spectrum in the 2.6 gigahertz (GHz) and 800 megahertz (MHz) frequency bands to increase capacity and coverage for urban and rural requirements. Icasa has invited proposals from telecoms players instead of auctioning the spectrum to the highest bidder as previously expected.
Up to 100 companies are expected to apply. There are about 500 electronic communication network services (ECNS) licence holders.
The 2.6GHz band is favoured for urban areas as it penetrates buildings easily in densely populated areas, while the 800MHz band offers better coverage for wireless communications in rural areas. The 800MHz spectrum will only be fully available once digital migration has taken place.
The government wants to start the migration to digital television broadcasting, which will use the 800MHz spectrum, in April next year.
Icasa wants to finalise the licensing process by the end of April next year. It will delay licensing spectrum in the 3.5GHz band, which is being reconfigured internationally.
Marcia Socikwa, an Icasa councillor, said an auction would be the last resort.
Icasa began the allocation of additional spectrum in 2006, but this was delayed as the government lacked a policy framework for the licensing.
Socikwa said: “The authority is mindful that delays have impacted negatively on competition and the economic benefits attached to it. However, a closer encounter with international and national developments on radio frequency spectrum suggests that perhaps the delays were fortuitous.”
Icasa has proposed a wholesale open access model.
Dumisa Ngwenya, the general manager for engineering and technology at Icasa, said companies licensed for both the 2.6GHz and 800MHz bands would have to provide a wholesale open access network on condition that any device and service could be operated on the networks and providers would not compete with their customers for end-consumers.
The licensees would have to complete 70 percent of their geographic coverage in five years, of which 50 percent must exclude metropolitan cities in Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. Companies licensed for 2.6GHz only, must have 50 percent of the population coverage in four years.
Requirements to qualify to apply for the licensing process will include that companies must be ECNS licence holders, have audited financial statements and a minimum of 30 percent ownership by historically disadvantaged individuals. Of the large operators, Vodacom does not meet this requirement.
Icasa also proposed a managed spectrum park model that allows telecoms companies to share common spectrum on a self-managed basis.
The deadline for the draft invitations to apply is the end of January. Icasa aims to hold public hearings from February 1 to February 3 next year.
The closing date for application is March 23.