Communications regulator Icasa on Friday said it had provided emergency temporary spectrum relief to operators during the Covid-19 crisis, in line with government regulations.
Spectrum in five bands has been awarded to Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Rain and Liquid Telecom.
TechCentral asked South Africa’s largest mobile operator, Vodacom, which has received relief in the 700/800MHz, 2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands, whether it can take immediate advantage of the assignments and how it plans to use them.
Is Vodacom able to make full use of the spectrum assignments in the short term?
Icasa still has to issue the formal temporary spectrum licence to Vodacom in line with the announcement of its decision, before the spectrum can be used. This temporary spectrum licence is expected in the new few days. The licence document will also contain the conditions and obligations for use of the spectrum bands assigned on a temporary basis to Vodacom.
Vodacom has, however, started preparing its network for the deployment of the additional spectrum, where required, to add capacity and improve coverage, and could be ready to use portions of the temporary spectrum within the next two weeks.
The 700MHz and 800MHz bands can be deployed quickest as there are some existing sites that have radios installed that can already support these new frequency bands. However, use of the 700/800MHz bands will be subject to the spectrum granted actually being usable on the sites in question. This will be dependent on the frequencies allocated to Vodacom in these bands not being used for either analogue or digital broadcasting in the areas covered by the sites in question.
For the other bands that have been temporarily assigned to Vodacom (2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz), entirely new radio equipment will need to be ordered from Vodacom’s equipment vendors. This is a process that usually would have taken a few weeks, but Vodacom is urgently investigating how the freight, customs clearances and type approvals for the equipment in question can be expedited.
Will Vodacom’s investments be curtailed due to the fact that this spectrum is temporary and that you don’t have insight into whether you’ll get access on a permanent basis following the upcoming auction?
The investment being made to use the temporary spectrum is being done in a manner so it can be re-used even after the auction. For example, the radio equipment being installed supports the entire frequency band in question, so even if Vodacom acquires different lots of spectrum within the frequency band in question later in an auction, the equipment installed now can still be re-used for the new lot of spectrum within the same frequency band after the auction.
How much investment will be needed to make use of these bands? Is it simply a software update, or will you need to invest in new network infrastructure/hardware?
The biggest dependency to deploy the new spectrum bands is the capability of the radio equipment on our base stations to support the new frequency bands. As mentioned, there are a number of base stations where 700MHz and 800MHz can be used without significant investment and which will be implemented largely through software configuration changes to activate the new spectrum.
For the other frequency bands, additional investment will be required, especially to purchase new radio equipment supporting the new bands. It is important to highlight that the investment required to deploy the new bands will still be much more cost effective than building entirely new base stations to cope with the increased traffic.
How usable is the spectrum in the digital dividend bands given that they are still occupied by the broadcasters?
Unfortunately, the digital dividend bands (700MHz and 800MHz) are not currently widely usable as the spectrum is still being used by broadcasters in a dual-illumination format. This means that in addition to analogue broadcasting, digital broadcasting is also taking place using the digital dividend bands. Also, very few analogue broadcasting transmitters have been turned off. The acceleration of analogue broadcasting switch-off and the completion of digital re-stacking by broadcasters will make the 700MHz and 800MHz bands much more widely usable.
Will you use the spectrum assignments to launch 5G? If so, what will the scope of this be in the near term?
Our priority and focus now is to maintain the quality and availability of our existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks, as customers will need a new 5G device to use the 5G network. — (c) 2020 NewsCentral Media