Government will issue a final policy direction on the allocation of 5G spectrum by September this year, communications minister Mondli Gungubele said in parliament on Wednesday.
Speaking at his department’s budget vote, Gungubele said that, once issued, communications regulator Icasa will proceed with the licensing of 5G-suitable radio waves to telecommunications operators.
Icasa plans to hold a spectrum auction early next year to allocate additional frequencies that have been earmarked internationally for mobile telecoms services.
Gungubele said government wants to allocate “as much of the spectrum as possible” in the upcoming auction. However, it is keen for Icasa to set aside some frequencies for allocation to “youth, women and SMMEs”, which could prove to be a “game changer”.
Government had previously wanted to license a wholesale open-access network to encourage greater competition in the mobile sector, but abandoned the plans after similar initiatives elsewhere in the world failed.
Meanwhile, on the migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television – which is now more than a decade behind schedule – Gungubele said all households still on analogue TVs will be migrated this year.
He said the communications department is engaging widely with stakeholders, as ordered by last year’s constitutional court judgment against his predecessor, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. That judgment came after broadcaster e.tv dragged Ntshavheni to the country’s apex court, arguing that a rushed switch-off would harm its commercial interests and those of other free-to-air broadcasters as well as TV-watching audiences.
Once the consultation is concluded, the minister will set a date for analogue switch-off, “which will be very soon and will free up much-needed spectrum”.
Although Icasa has already licensed spectrum used by broadcasters, telecoms operators have not been able to put those frequencies — in the 700MHz and 800MHz “digital dividend” bands — to full use due to signal interference issues in some areas.
Government hopes to switch off the remaining 151 analogue transmitters across four provinces soon, with the distribution of free digital set-top boxes to qualifying indigent households to be completed “as soon as possible”. – © 2023 NewsCentral Media