Government's spectrum licensing plans revealed - TechCentral

Government’s spectrum licensing plans revealed

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s report on how much spectrum it believes should be assigned to government’s planned wholesale open-access network (Woan) has finally been released.

The report is contained in a draft policy direction to communications regulator Icasa by telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele, published on Friday.

TechCentral can reveal that the CSIR has recommended that the minimum spectrum that be made available to the planned Woan (based on 20% market share, or about 10 million customers) is:

  • 2x25MHz at 800MHz (band 20);
  • 2x20MHz at 2.6GHz (band 7) – paired (FDD) spectrum;
  • 25MHz at 2.6GHz (band 38) – unpaired (TDD) spectrum.

“The above recommendations are meant to address the immediate requirements for the Woan, as per the terms of reference of this study,” the CSIR said.

The council’s study team also recommended that further studies, aimed at ensuring the Woan remains relevant in the future, take place.

These include, but are not limited to, a detailed market study to forecast the market size of the Woan beyond 2020 and up to 2030, including for the roll-out of 5G technologies, as well as allowing for experimentation with different spectrum assignment combinations for new broadband spectrum bands to ensure that emerging broadband needs are catered for and that new technologies, including 5G, are adopted as early as possible.

Government wants to create the private sector-owned Woan to increase competition in South Africa’s mobile industry to bring down the cost of communications. It had wanted to reserve all unassigned high-demand (mainly broadband) spectrum for the Woan, but has since backed down, saying any spectrum not needed by the wholesale provider can be licensed to commercial operators, including Vodacom and MTN.

Telecoms minister Siyabonga Cwele. Image: ITU

The licensing of new spectrum hadn’t been expected to take place until government had finalised an amendment to Electronic Communications Act. However, it has now been brought forward by the telecoms department, apparently as a result of pressure from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

In the draft policy direction to Icasa, Cwele wants the regulator to consider the recommendations of the CSIR study “urgently”.

Interested stakeholders have until 8 November to provide input on the draft.

Court action withdrawn

Publication of the draft document comes just days after Cwele said he was withdrawing his court action against Icasa over the regulator’s plan to auction radio frequency spectrum suitable for wireless broadband.

Cwele went to court to try to stop Icasa’s invitation to operators to apply for spectrum. It issued the ITA in July 2016. In terms of a settlement agreement, Icasa agreed to withdraw the ITA and the minister would also withdraw his legal challenge.

“This settlement agreement is in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to ‘initiate the process for the allocation of high-demand radio spectrum to enable licensing’ made on Friday, 21 September 2018 in the announcement of the economic stimulus and economic recovery plan,” the parties said in a joint statement.  — (c) 2018 NewsCentral Media

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