In an unexpected early move, communications regulator Icasa has issued an invitation for interested telecommunications operators to apply for access to so-called high-demand spectrum bands.
Icasa had only been expected to issue an invitation to apply for the spectrum after the department of telecoms & postal services had finalised the integrated ICT policy white paper, which had been promised by the end of March but which apparently is still being discussed at cabinet level.
Icasa on Friday morning published an “invitation to apply for a radio frequency spectrum licence to provide mobile broadband wireless access services for urban and rural areas using the complementary bands 700MHz, 800MHz and 2,6GHz” in terms of section 31(3) of the Electronic Communications Act read with regulations 6 and 7 of the radio frequency spectrum regulations of 2015.
The frequencies in questions are 790MHz to 862MHz, 694MHz to 790MHz and 2,5GHz to 2,69GHz for the “purposes of providing national broadband wireless access services”. Interested parties have until 4pm on 4 August to respond to the invitation to apply, Icasa said in the notice.
It’s not clear why Icasa has suddenly published the invitation to apply now. The move may suggest the authority is not prepared to wait any longer for government to finalise policy. It’s understood from an industry source that Icasa may make a statement about its plans as early as Friday afternoon.
Legally, Icasa does not have to wait for the telecoms department to finalise the ICT policy white paper to go ahead with an auction of spectrum, though it was not expected to actually do so given the political implications. A source close to government said it is unlikely the authority is going ahead without political support at some level, possibly from national treasury, which is known to be in favour of a spectrum auction.
Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka said the authority will issue a statement clarifying its position today.
Concern has been growing among telecoms operators in recent months that DTPS intends scrapping the idea of a spectrum auction, which is the most common way that governments and regulators around the world have opened new 4G/LTE spectrum to the private sector.
In May, MTN South Africa CEO Mteto Nyati expressed serious concern about government’s plans for allocating new spectrum for 4G networks, saying the wrong policy decisions would risk undermining one of the few sectors in South Africa that is performing relatively well.
Government, through the telecoms department, has hinted strongly that it will make spectrum available on a wholesale open-access basis to encourage new competition in South Africa’s wireless broadband industry. The ICT policy white paper, which will deal with spectrum allocation, is expected to be published soon, providing the guidance needed for communications regulator Icasa to issue licences. – © 2016 NewsCentral Media