OF THE 35 applications Icasa had received for temporary spectrum, only 17 met the criteria, says acting Icasa chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng.     Supplied
OF THE 35 applications Icasa had received for temporary spectrum, only 17 met the criteria, says acting Icasa chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng. Supplied

Icasa issues emergency radio frequency

By Dineo Faku Time of article published Apr 20, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) on Friday issued emergency radio frequency spectrum to major mobile operators, including MTN, Vodacom and Telkom, but the jury is out on how soon the spectrum will be allocated.

The move paves the way for the easing of network congestion due to the large number of people working from home during the lockdown.

The emergency release of the high demand spectrum was a temporary measure that would be used until the earlier of either three months after the national disaster period had ended or the end of November, Icasa said.

It also said that the release of the spectrum would help maintain good-quality broadband services and would enable licensees to lower the cost of access to customers.

Acting Icasa chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng said of the 35 applications it had received for the allocation, only 17 met the criteria.

“The authority exercised extreme care in the assignment of this temporary spectrum to existing licensees in order to achieve the objectives of the Covid-19 regulations, which are aimed at alleviating network challenges, easing congestion and ensuring good quality of service for consumers,” he said, adding that in most of these assignments, applicants were granted additional spectrum.

“However, there are a few exceptional cases where the authority had to apply practical and non-discriminatory principles to ensure that no licensee is prejudiced,” said Modimoeng.

Icasa said it had considered applications for temporary radio frequency spectrum assignments in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2300MHz, 2600MHz and 3500MHz bands, including the use of Television Whitespaces in an effort to ensure connectivity for all during the National State of Disaster.

However, Arthur Goldstuck, who heads World Wide Worx, a research organisation, said there was little hope that the urgency in the announcement would be matched by urgency in spectrum allocation.

Goldstuck said as far back as September 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared that the government would take “swift action” on the licensing of high-demand spectrum.

“With the government presiding over such regulatory sloth, how could we expect any true urgency in emergency spectrum allocation? In the same way that it is already more than 18 months since ‘swift action’ was promised on spectrum allocation, the urgent issuing of spectrum announced at the start of lockdown has only come into effect after the end of the original lockdown period,” he said.

“We have now turned our attention to a four-to-six-week radio rollout plan and adding additional capacity to the mobile core network,” Jacqui O’Sullivan, executive for corporate affairs at MTN Group South African unit, said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Vodacom said it “can be ready to use portions of the temporary spectrum within the next two weeks”.

Commenting on the allocation, Vodacom said the temporary assignment of spectrum would help to alleviate network congestion during the Covid-19 lockdown. In recent weeks, mobile network traffic had increased by about 40percent as more people worked from home and turned to online services for entertainment, Vodacom said.

“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, ” Vodacom chief executive Shameel Joosub said.

Last week, the company announced an investment of R500million in network infrastructure.

Ofentse Dazela, a director of pricing at Africa Analysis, said the additional spectrum was a sensible intervention by the government, as it would help companies manage their networks as more people worked from home during the Covid-19 national lockdown.

“In the absence of this additional spectrum, users were likely going to experience service degradation due to overwhelming traffic already reported by operators, such as MTN and Vodacom, on their broader networks,” Dazela said. 

BUSINESS REPORT, additional reporting by Reuters

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