Authority says it will issue an information memorandum on the process for the long-delayed issue by December. Photo: Pixabay
JOHANNESBURG - The independent Communications Authority said yesterday that it would issue an information memorandum on the licensing process for the long-delayed high-spectrum by December.

Icasa said it would publish the memorandum for the International Mobile Telecommunications spectrum.

It said this was an important step towards the government's policy objectives of ensuring broadband access, transformation of the ICT sector, lower data costs, competition and inclusive growth.

The South African government has been heavily criticised for its failure to act swiftly on spectrum, which has left South Africans footing hefty data bills for mobile data and cellphone operators out of the 5G race.

“The information memorandum outlines the authority's approach on the licensing of the spectrum following the publication of the Policy on High Demand Spectrum and Policy Direction on the Licensing of a Wireless Open Access Network (the Policy Direction) by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies,” Icasa said.

It said the memorandum was also intended to provide guidance to stakeholders and prospective applicants on the process and criteria to be applied in the licensing of the spectrum.

Acting Icasa chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng said the licensing was a critical component in ensuring that South Africans could participate in opportunities emanating from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“Through the publication of the information memorandum, the authority further provides an opportunity to stakeholders and prospective applicants alike to make inputs and representations on the proposed licensing process, associated criteria and timelines,” said Modimoeng.

The country's biggest mobile operators yesterday welcomed the move.

Vodacom, the country's largest mobile operator by value, said Icasa needed to fast-track the process.

“It is important to understand the time frame as to when we might get access to spectrum and in particular when the 700MHz to 800MHz range will be unlocked through the digital migration so that this process doesn't take too long,” said spokesperson Byron Kennedy.

“It is vital for the government to make the necessary resources available to effect the digital migration. Having to build a 4G network using spectrum other than the ‘digital dividend’ means that we have had to needlessly build significantly more towers. Unfortunately, this has increased input costs.”

He said the award of new spectrum remained a vital part of reducing input costs and bringing down data prices in South Africa.

MTN’s Jacqui O’Sullivan said the group believed that the move would provide a framework or reasons to document Icasa’s approach to licensing of high-demand spectrum.

“This will also provide transparency to the market prior to the publication of the invitation to apply and greater understanding of the process and rationale applied in the licensing approach adopted by Icasa.

"MTN looks forward to the publication of the information memorandum,” she said.

“The market continues to suffer from spectrum crunch and hopes the speedy licensing of the high demand spectrum will alleviate this.”

BUSINESS REPORT