Icasa has received more than 40 written submissions on the licensing of broadband spectrum suitable for building 4G/LTE and 5G networks in South Africa as the communications regulator gears up to auction off radio frequency spectrum.
The deadline for submissions was Friday, with Icasa promising to publish them on its website and in its library by the end of this week, once it has conducted a “confidentiality assessment”.
“The release of high-demand spectrum is the most seminal licensing process for the future of the sector,” the regulator said in a statement. “The authority is therefore mindful of the far-reaching consequential implications of this process – not just for the authority but for the wider South African economy.”
South Africa has never formally licensed spectrum suitable for the roll-out of 4G networks, forcing mobile operators to reallocate existing spectrum assets – used to build their 2G and 3G networks – to roll out 4G infrastructure. With the upcoming auction – expected to happen later this year – it should help operators build better coverage and expand the reach of their networks.
Telecommunications providers are also waiting anxiously for the assignment of 5G spectrum, with Icasa set to license what’s available in the 3.5GHz band as part of the current process.
“The authority will thoroughly consider all the representations that have been received prior to embarking on the next steps of the licensing process,” it said. “It is of critical importance that we embark on a legally sound process, underpinned by solid forward-looking technical and economic considerations, all in the public interest.”
Icasa is expected to retain the services of a specialist spectrum auctioneer to manage the licensing of spectrum to commercial operators. Spectrum will also be assigned to the planned wholesale open-access network (Woan) separately to the auction. Commercial operators must agree to buy capacity from the Woan to help ensure its successful launch. The government has championed the Woan — a largely untested concept — in an effort to break the dominance of mobile market leaders Vodacom and MTN and introduce more competition in the services layer of the market.
Icasa said it will “carefully manage the ‘possible’ inter-dependencies between this process and its other regulatory processes (such as the Mobile Broadband Services Market Inquiry and the process for the issuing of the individual electronic network services licence to the Woan). This approach will be in the spirit of ensuring consistency and certainty in regulatory outcomes.”
It will also consider recommendations from the Competition Commission’s final report on the data services market as it begins the spectrum licensing process.
“The next milestone in the licensing process is scheduled for first quarter of the 2020/2021 financial year starting in April this year, when the authority will, informed by analysis of the representations received on the Information Memorandum, outline in detail the process that will ensue and the likely date for assignment of the high-demand spectrum. This relates to both the auction and Woan licensing processes.
“The authority remains unequivocally committed to efforts of lowering the cost to communicate (particularly data) and ensuring good quality of service while sustaining the clarion call of making South Africa an attractive investment destination,” it said. — © 2020 NewsCentral Media