Pakamile Pongwana, the CEO of communications regulator Icasa, has lamented the “indecision” by both it and the government on “critical issues”, especially when it comes to the management and assignment of radio frequency spectrum.
In a lengthy opinion piece submitted to TechCentral, Pongwana said that the ICT sector in South Africa is “regressing” because of the lack of decision making around spectrum.
“The authority hopes to work with policy makers and other key stakeholders to bring to an end the delays that have plagued the high-demand spectrum licensing process,” he said.
He said mobile operators are short of spectrum to deploy next-generation 4G/LTE services because the spectrum is “tied up” in analogue television transmission and what is available has not been assigned to telecommunications operators.
“Icasa’s primary mandate in relation to spectrum is to ensure efficient use of [it]. Critical to this mandate is the need to ensure that spectrum is assigned to licensees … to enable and facilitate provision of services and that no ‘available and usable’ spectrum lies fallow,” Pongwana said.
“To this end, the authority is eager to re-initiate the licensing process for the assignment of the high-demand spectrum (suitable for deployment of broadband services), which was abandoned a few years ago,” he said.
Part of the reason the sector is seeing a wave of consolidation — led by Vodacom and MTN, in particular — is because the operators are constrained by a lack of access to spectrum. At the same time, new entrants have not been able to launch services as they have not been assigned the spectrum they need, he said.
“The implication of the consolidation is that a giant infrastructure based player, or two, will be created in a first-tier level of the market. A huge number of entities may not have reasonable and easy access to that infrastructure under the current regulatory framework,” Pongwana said.
“That is why concepts like wholesale open access, infrastructure sharing and mobile virtual network operators become relevant for the South African context. Any future licensing process needs to take account of the need for the creation of a wholesale open-access framework to enable access by myriad service-based players to ensure rapid deployment of broadband services.”
He said Icasa is “mindful” of the impact of consolidation on competition. “The authority recognises that it cannot regulate the spectrum effects of market consolidation on competition in the various markets without undertaking an in-depth enquiry in terms of the legislation [and so]intends to prioritise the identification of markets that are susceptible to anticompetitive effects.” — © 2015 NewsCentral Media