Gov’t wants to license new telecoms operators

Robert Nkuna

The department of communications wants to use the sale of radio frequency spectrum in “high-demand bands” to facilitate the entrance of new infrastructure competitors in SA’s telecommunications industry.

“We should allow licensees that don’t have spectrum so they can compete with the incumbents,” says Robert Nkuna, special adviser to communications minister Roy Padayachie. “The opportunity should allow us to introduce new operators.”

Industry regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), is expected to license access to two key frequency bands — 2,6GHz and 3,5GHz — either later this year or early next year.

Operators are particularly keen to get access to the 2,6GHz band, which is ideally suited for providing the next generation of wireless broadband networks using a technology called long-term evolution.

“Engagements with Icasa are ongoing to see how fast we can conclude the process,” says Nkuna.

Incumbent operators such as Vodacom and MTN are lobbying hard for access to the spectrum, arguing they’re best resourced financially to fund the roll-out of national networks.

Communications director-general Rosey Sekese adds that the “real issue” the department is grappling with around spectrum is ensuring that whichever companies are granted licences roll out services in rural areas and not only in urban areas that are already well served.

“It’s not about ensuring people continue to roll out where there is already infrastructure,” says Sekese.

Meanwhile, Nkuna says government will direct Icasa to conduct a full review of the spectrum currently used by television broadcasters, and not only the spectrum expected to be freed up around 800MHz — usually referred to as the “digital dividend” spectrum.

It will direct Icasa to conduct a review of all spectrum between 470MHz and 862MHz to determine which of it could be freed up for other purposes, including broadband.

The department is also discussing whether to license access to the digital dividend spectrum to telecoms operators ahead of completion of digital migration to ensure companies can begin offering wireless broadband services as soon as possible after analogue switch-off. Nkuna says all issues related to spectrum are being “fast tracked”.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

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