The Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) has been appointed to conduct a high-stakes audit to determine how much radio frequency spectrum should be reserved for government’s planned wholesale open-access network (Woan).
Government recently agreed to an industry proposal for a “hybrid model”, in which both the controversial Woan — which will draw investors from the private sector — will coexist alongside the networks of the commercial operators such as Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Telkom and Rain.
Telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele agreed to adopt the hybrid model after the big mobile operators strenuously objected to the contentious plan by government to reserve all future “high-demand” spectrum — spectrum that can be used to deploy 4G/LTE and future 5G networks — for the Woan. If government had stuck to that plan, it was inevitable that at least some of the operators would have taken the minister to court.
Cwele also backed down on an earlier proposal — described by critics as unconstitutional — that raised the idea of forcing commercial operators to hand back existing spectrum that has been assigned to them to build their 2G, 3G and 4G networks.
When the minister revealed the change of plans in parliament in May, it had been speculated that either communications regulator Icasa or the CSIR would be appointed to conduct the audit to determine how much spectrum should be reserved for the Woan, with the remaining high-demand spectrum awarded to commercial operators through a normal licensing process conducted by Icasa (possibly through an auction).
Cwele’s spokesman, Siya Qoza, confirmed to TechCentral on Wednesday that the CSIR has been appointed to do the audit and that it has already begun consultations with “stakeholders”.
Qoza said the CSIR is empowered to conduct an independent assessment, free of influence from Cwele and the telecoms department. The fact that the research institute is government owned won’t compromise the integrity of its investigation, he added.
Two mobile industry executives contacted by TechCentral on Tuesday said they felt comfortable that the CSIR will be doing the research, but they asked not to be quoted. One senior industry executive said he is not concerned about the fact that the CSIR is government owned, saying the process will be transparent. He said the organisation also has the technical skills needed to come to the right conclusions.
The big operators have agreed to buy capacity from the Woan, among other concessions, to help make it financially sustainable. — © 2017 NewsCentral Media