South Africa's spectrum ITA, unpacked by top experts - TechCentral

South Africa’s spectrum ITA, unpacked by top experts

In this special edition of the TechCentral podcast, Duncan McLeod chats to three top industry experts to unpack communications regulator Icasa’s invitations to apply for broadband spectrum and for the wholesale open-access network (Woan) licence.

McLeod is joined by Steve Song, Kerron Edmunson and Mortimer Hope to discuss the ITAs in detail, including what they means for South Africa’s telecommunications industry and for consumers.

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Song, who wears many hats, including as fellow in residence at the Mozilla Foundation, Hope, who runs a policy and regulatory consultancy and who is a former director for Africa at the GSMA, and Edmunson, an attorney who specialises in telecoms policy and regulation, start by giving their high-level views of the spectrum ITA. What’s good about it, what’s not so good, and what needs to be fixed?

The conversation then delves into greater detail, looking at the spectrum lots that Icasa has created for the auction and whether these make sense. Is Icasa trying to engineer a particular outcome? And if it is, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

The three panellists then unpack the reserve prices set by Icasa. Are they too high? Too low? Just right? Is an auction the best model to use to allocate spectrum in an emerging market like South Africa? What will be the impact on retail prices? Who can afford to bid? What will it mean for competition?

The discussion then turns to the digital dividend bands – 700MHz and 800MHz – still occupied by analogue television broadcasters. Should Icasa be licensing these bands at this stage? Will bidders be prepared to pay top dollar for access to bands they can’t fully utilise until at least 2022? Should South Africa give up on digital terrestrial television and free up all sub-1GHz spectrum for mobile?


The panellists also tackle the obligations attached to the spectrum licences. Are they fair? Do they make sense? What about the requirements around mobile virtual network operators? Does the requirement to support MVNOs undermine the Woan’s feasibility? And what about the empowerment rules? Are they too onerous?

The final segment of the podcast deals specifically with the Woan. Song and Edmunson weigh in on whether they think it will fly or not given the support Icasa will give it, including offtake arrangements with incumbent operators and cheap access to spectrum.

This is an important discussion about one of the most critical processes ever undertaken by Icasa. Don’t miss it!

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