Communications regulator Icasa has once again extended the allocation of emergency temporary spectrum to mobile operators under the Covid-19 regulations, but has warned the latest three-month extension will be the last.
Describing this latest extension as a “grace period”, Icasa said it will allow licensees to “wind down their use of temporary radio frequency spectrum”. Some operators have used the spectrum to launch 5G networks of limited scope, while most have deployed it to provide capacity in areas where demand has increased, with more people working from home.
“Icasa has resolved that the temporary radio frequency spectrum assigned to licensees will now have to be returned to the authority by no later 30 November,” it said in a statement on Monday.
“The temporary radio frequency spectrum was first assigned by means of an expedited invitation to apply during April 2020 on the initial declaration of the national state of disaster, which in turn was occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
However, taking back the spectrum at the end of November could prove highly problematic if the planned spectrum auction – currently delayed by litigation from Telkom, e.tv parent eMedia Holdings and MTN – is not held soon. Industry players are locked in out-of-court discussions with Icasa in an attempt to resolve the impasse, though it’s for from clear that the matter will be resolved through negotiation.
“The authority has twice extended the duration of the temporary radio frequency spectrum assignment, the last expiry date being 31 August 2021,” Icasa said. “The authority has taken account of the current environment in relation to the number of infections, the gradual reopening of the economy and the steady progress in the vaccination programme. More importantly, it is mindful of the need to focus its efforts on the permanent licensing of spectrum. However, it is important that the industry be allowed adequate time to plan and adjust their operations,” it said.
Icasa “cannot allow the temporary spectrum assignment to assume a state of permanence”, said chairman Keabetswe Modimoeng in the statement. “Having allowed operators to use the temporarily assigned spectrum for 17 months, it is reasonable that they be allowed a further three months, until 30 November 2021, as a sufficient winding-down period.” — © 2021 NewsCentral Media