Telecommunications and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele has said his department will publish a final policy on so-called high-demand spectrum within the next six months.
The final policy will be ready before the end of the financial year — 31 March 2015 — he said in an interview with TechCentral.
He said government will work with communications regulator Icasa in finalising the policy.
Cellular network operators and others have warned repeatedly that they urgently require access to additional radio frequency spectrum in order to deploy next-generation networks based on 4G/LTE mobile technology.
Last month, MTN group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa warned that government delays in issuing a final policy on high-demand spectrum had started affecting the quality of MTN South Africa’s network in some parts of the country.
“We are getting to a stage in some parts of our business where we definitely do need additional spectrum. In some parts, the network quality is actually being affected by the unavailability of additional spectrum,” Dabengwa said at the group’s interim financial results presentation in response to a question from TechCentral.
Both MTN and Vodacom have been forced to reallocate or “refarm” a portion of their existing spectrum to make available limited 4G/LTE services to their customers. Lack of access to new spectrum is threatening to stall their expansion plans, they say.
Operators are keen for access to both the 2,6GHz and 800MHz bands. The latter band, known as the digital dividend, will be freed up when South Africa migrates from analogue to digital terrestrial television. However, digital migration has been held up by years, first as government entertained alternative broadcasting technology standards and then as commercial operators MultiChoice and e.tv warred over whether the set-top boxes consumers will need to receive terrestrial broadcasts will use a control system.
Cwele had promised to publish government’s final policy on digital migration by the end of July, but failed to meet his self-imposed deadline. It’s not clear whether Cwele is driving the project, or whether it is being run by his counterpart at the ministry of communications, Faith Muthambi. Cwele this week avoided answering questions on the subject, saying the process was being driven by the ANC as a “collective”. — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media