Wireless broadband spectrum to be auctioned


The country’s communications watchdog, Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), is getting ready to auction the country’s much-needed spectrum for broadband deployment. Icasa is favouring auction process used by Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and the Czech Republic. The process is likely to be a messy affair as every operator is keen on putting their hands on this scarce national resource.  By Gugu Lourie.

Icasa on Monday issued an Information Memorandum that provides guidance to prospective applicants regarding the process and criteria to be applied by the Authority in the licensing of the much-needed spectrum.

Applicants will be vying to apply for the radio frequency spectrum licenses within the designated range: the 2.6GHz band and the 800 MHz band and the 700MHz band for the purposes of providing national broadband wireless access services.

The main aim of licensing 700MHz, 800MHz and 2600MHz is to ensure nationwide broadband access for all citizens by 2020.

The regulator prefers an auction for the much-needed spectrum.

Irene Charnley, CEO of Smile, is likely to be the first executive to drop application for wireless broadband spectrum
Irene Charnley, CEO of Smile, is likely to be the first executive to drop application for wireless broadband spectrum

Spectrum auctions has proven to be a “best practice” for assigning spectrum where demand exceeds supply.

Icasa said this will be achieved by increasing universal service and access by ensuring rural connectivity, giving consumers more choice, introducing a wholesale open access network, and promote Investment in the sector and economic growth, ensure quality of service and experience and ensure affordability of services.

The spectrum will be awarded on a national basis covering the entire territory of South Africa.

The regulator intends imposing various obligations on successful applicants.

“The authority has been studying approaches used internationally to incentivise network deployment and is particularly impressed by the success of the model adopted in Germany, where operators that acquired 800MHz spectrum were required to provide coverage in less populated areas before they were able to utilise the spectrum in more populated regions. This led to LTE services being available across the whole country in a period of less than two years,” according to the Government Gazette.

ICASA also aims to encourage wholesale open access obligations.

“One of the objectives of the authority is to stimulate competition in the provision of broadband services while ensuring innovative, affordable and universally accessible at acceptable quality levels.”

The auction of the 700MHz spectrum is important for the future of broadband services in South Africa.

The 700MHz spectrum has much better propagation characteristics, which enables better coverage at relatively lower cost of network deployment suitable for sparsely populated areas.

The 700MHz spectrum is important in shaping the future and role of the ICT industry in ensuring that South Africa meet broadband targets set out in the SA Connect Broadband Policy.

“The wireless wholesale open access network is becoming even more relevant now given the recent wave of market consolidation in the ICT industry, which might reverse competition gains introduced in the market. The wireless wholesale open access network operator would be expected to deploy wholesale Radio Access Network (RAN) for mobile broadband.”

The wireless open access network shall be given 3 years of obligation holiday from paying radio frequency spectrum license fees with regard to the 700MHz spectrum license.

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Obligations

In order to fast track the DTT migration project and utilisation of 700/800 MHz, applicants awarded this spectrum are obliged to provide set-top-boxes free of charge to households for Free To Air Terrestrial Television Service, to who may not qualify for the subsidy scheme for ownership for poor television owning household in the affected areas

According to the Government Gazette, the cost to provide set top boxes free of charge will be offset against the auction price.


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