The Wireless Access Providers’ Association (Wapa), an industry body representing 65 wireless Internet service providers, has called for a radical rethink of how scarce radio frequency spectrum is managed in SA, saying industry self-regulation should be given serious consideration for certain spectrum bands.
The association’s joint chairman, Johann Botha (pictured), says Wapa would like to apply a wiki-style, or community-driven, model to spectrum management and allow problems of spectral interference to be sorted out by the industry, rather than by the industry regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).
Botha says self-regulation makes sense given that technology is evolving quicker than regulators can keep up. There doesn’t necessarily have to be chaos, even if there is no central regulatory oversight, he says. “Anarchy means ‘without leaders’, not ‘without order’.”
“It would be an inclusive process,” Botha says. “It’s important for people to feel they have a say at every step of the way and how the rules are made.”
Wapa was established in 2006 to represent wireless service providers, many of whom were operating in a grey legal area at the time. However, since telecommunications group Altech’s landmark high court victory against former communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri last year, wireless service providers are operating firmly within the confines of the law, Botha says.
He admits that in the early days of the industry, there was a lot of “cowboy thinking”. Companies would emit signals from base stations that caused significant interference with other providers, or which were so high powered that they simply flooded the spectrum.
When service providers join Wapa, they agree to abide by a set of rules designed, among other things, to stop spectrum interference. However, Wapa’s members only make up a small portion of the estimated 600-800 wireless service providers in the country, so it’s not clear how effective self-regulation might prove. Botha hopes Wapa will have 100 members by the end of the year.
He says the body has successfully minimised interference with the SA Weather Service’s radar system, located at Irene, south of Pretoria. “We spoke to the Weather Service, figured out which frequencies they were using, and sent out an advisory to our members [to stop the interference].”
Most of Wapa’s members use the unregulated 5,4GHz band to provide Internet services to consumers. A few operate in the 2,4GHz band, which is also unregulated. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral