Following a meeting with the CEOs of six of South Africa’s telecommunications infrastructure operators on Monday, Icasa is moving to license access to what it’s calling “provisional spectrum” by 1 December.
The move comes as the regulator moves ahead with its plan to withdraw temporary spectrum assignments given to operators at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 to alleviate network pressure. This withdrawal will take place by the end of this month.
The decision to withdraw the temporary spectrum prompted howls of outrage from many sector players and led to a lawsuit from Telkom – supported by Vodacom and MTN – against the withdrawal. It now seems likely that those lawsuits will be withdrawn.
Monday’s session between Icasa and the CEOs – news of which was first reported by TechCentral at the weekend – went well, according to sources who spoke to the publication on Tuesday and Wednesday about the outcome of the closed-door virtual meeting. All industry players, including Rain, which is opposing Telkom’s lawsuit against Icasa, cautiously welcomed Icasa’s proposals, the sources said. The move is also understood to enjoy the support of communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
“Icasa has resolved to invite applications from infrastructure-based mobile network operators for the provisional assignment of radio frequency spectrum under the new ICT Covid-19 national state of disaster regulations, 2021,” Icasa said in a statement on Wednesday.
“In this regard, Icasa has decided to make available the following bands available for provisional assignment effective from 1 December 2021: 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz. All qualifying licensees will have five working days to submit their applications to the authority — applications must be submitted by no later than 4pm on Wednesday, 17 November,” it said.
The licences will stay in force until 30 June 2022 or three months after the termination of the Covid-19 state of disaster, whichever comes first. TechCentral understands the intention is to make the provisional spectrum available until such time that the delayed spectrum auction can take place and the bands can be assigned on a permanent basis.
Icasa has promised to make a final decision on the applications for provisional spectrum by no later than 26 November.
“The authority believes that it is in the best interest of the public to have a provisional spectrum licensing arrangement in place over the next seven months. This will enable all other inherent licensing processes to conclude while mitigating any possible service disruptions.”
Said Icasa chairman Keabetswe Modimoeng: “Icasa is not a spectrum-hoarding regulator. All we want is ultimately a competitive, transparent, and all-inclusive spectrum licensing regime and plans are afoot in that regard. The provisional spectrum licensing arrangement is an improved pro- competitive interim measure but is not a permanent process considering its limited participatory scope. This provisional arrangement is tailored to deal with any network issues which may affect the provision of services to consumers in the intervening period.” — © 2021 NewsCentral Media