Icasa makes more spectrum available to meet internet demand amid coronavirus crisis
Cape Town - Telecoms regulator Icasa announced on Monday an emergency release of broadband spectrum to meet a spike in internet demand during a lockdown to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
"The emergency release of this spectrum does not ... negate the processes that are currently underway for permanent assignment of spectrum through an auction, the process which the Authority had committed to finalise by the end of 2020," said the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) in a statement.
The temporary release of high demand spectrum will last for the duration of the national state of disaster declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa, said Icasa, as South Africa implements a 21-day lockdown from March 27 in a bid to curb infection rates.
The emergency release is expected to ease network congestion and maintain the quality of broadband services in Africa's most industrialised economy.
Licencees are required to submit their applications to Icasa by April 9, the regulator added.
Telkom told Reuters last month that it is seeing increases of 15% to 30% in data consumption across mobile and fixed connectivity, while MTN Group said it was too early to quantify the surge in data traffic.
MTN, Telkom and Vodacom are already providing free access to health sites and e-school platforms to support home learning and teaching, while MTN has waived fees on mobile money transactions in certain markets.
While South African telecoms operators say their networks have been able to cope so far, there are fears of congestion as more people work from home.
"One envisages a situation where there will be too much traffic on the network," Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams told journalists, adding that ICASA is considering providing temporary additional spectrum.
The minister said that telecoms companies will be required to return the spectrum once the situation normalises.
"ICASA is currently engaging with sector licensees on possible ways of (providing) radio frequency spectrum relief for the duration of the declared state of disaster," ICASA spokesman Paseka Maleka confirmed in an email.
"This is mainly to ease congestion, ensure good quality of broadband services and to enable licensees to lower cost of access to consumers (particularly in relation to education, emergency and other social services)."
Vodacom told Reuters that it will be engaging ICASA to "gain access to spectrum on a temporary basis."
"Vodacom has also taken a decision to significantly ramp up investment spend in the short term to help manage network congestion," group spokesman Byron Kennedy said in an email.