Icasa planning to issue invitations for licensing radio frequency spectrum
JOHANNESBURG - The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is planning to issue invitations for the licensing of the radio frequency spectrum and the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN).
Icasa said late Thursday that it was preparing to publish the invitation to apply (ITA) for the WOAN and the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum, also known as high demand spectrum without indicating time frames.
The ITA is for licences in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands, which is most commonly associated with 5G. Icasa, which had planned to publish the ITA before the end of June, said it had run into slight delays given the complexity of the process.
Dimakatso Qocha, Icasa’s acting chairperson, said the authority had made extensive progress in developing both ITAs following submissions on the Information Memorandum, there were additional considerations it had to apply itself to.
“This has resulted in the Authority having slightly delayed the publication of the ITAs”, said Qocha.
Qocha said the authority remained committed to its plans of releasing spectrum that would level the playing field in the digital economy.
“This, we are doing, to ensure business development, promote investment, stimulate economic growth and indeed promote good quality broadband services, as well as enable licensees to lower the cost of communications in South Africa,” said Qocha.
Icasa is scheduled to auction high-demand spectrum by December, after temporarily assigning spectrum to support the increase in broadband demand brought by the Covid-19 pandemic national lockdown.
Arthur Goldstuck, the managing director at World Wide Worx, said the delay in issuing an Invitation to Apply came as no surprise, given the lack of urgency government has exhibited over the past 12 years in spectrum allocation.
Goldstuck said it was worrying that more than 18 months after President Cyril Ramaphosa said the matter would be given urgent attention, there were no obvious signs of a sense of urgency. Only thanks to an unprecedented official State of Disaster was emergency spectrum issued.
"Lockdown highlighted the extent to which digital access should be a human right. In the absence of such access, the digital divide emerged as a fundamental basis of inequality, rather than merely a measure of access, It is clear that spectrum should be seen as an emergency need regardless of the state of lockdown," said Goldstuck.
Allocation of the spectrum is critical to expanding broadband especially 5G technology and is expected to reduce South Africa's high data costs.
Ofentse Dazela, a director for pricing research at Africa Analysis, said the temporary allocation of spectrum had helped mobile operators get spectrum quicker.
“I think the Covid-19 pandemic has in many ways assisted the telecoms operators and they were able to get spectrum (temporary) sooner in the frequency bands they have been eyeing to expedite the rollout of faster mobile data networks across the country,” said Dazela.
“Considering that operators are only expected to surrender the use of this relief spectrum in the month of November, while the auction for permanent spectrum is scheduled a month later, my view is that what we are witnessing now is what operators had planned to do later in the year once they were allocated additional spectrum,” Dazela said.
Telcos have benefited from the temporary allocation of spectrum. MTN launched its 5G network on Tuesday on the back of the temporary allocation of spectrum. Vodacom launched its 5G network in May, while Rain, South Africa's only data only operator became Africa's first Telco to rollout 5G last September.