The country’s communications watchdog, ICASA, plans to invite applications from infrastructure-based mobile network operators for provisional assignment of radio frequency spectrum under the new ICT COVID-19 National State of Disaster Regulations, 2021.
The temporary radio frequency spectrum was first assigned by means of an expedited ITA during April 2020 on the initial declaration of the National State of Disaster, which in turn was occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
ICASA has since twice extended the duration of the temporary radio frequency spectrum assignment, with the last expiry date being 31 August 2021.
South Africa’s operators are expected to give back temporary radio frequency spectrum assignments.
The country’s communications watchdog said in August that it had resolved that the temporary radio frequency spectrum assigned to licensees would now have to be returned by no later than 30 November 2021.
But this month, Telkom, joined by MTN, filed court papers in a bid to stop Icasa from withdrawing all the temporary spectrum, arguing that the country is still under a state of disaster regulations and warning that if the temporary arrangement is terminated it will disadvantage consumers as there will be network interruptions.
Today ICASA said: “The Authority has resolved to implement the provisional assignment arrangement for a seven (7) month period ending 30 June 2022, or three months after the termination of the National State of Disaster, whichever comes first. The bands shall be assigned in accordance with the criteria and conditions stipulated by the Authority in the ICT COVID-19 National State of Disaster Regulations.
“The Authority will consider the applications and make a final decision by no later than 26 November 2021.”
ICASA said it has has decided to make available the following International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) bands available for provisional assignment effective from 1 December 2021 i.e. 700MHz, 800MHz, 2300MHz, 2600MHz and 3500MHz bands. All qualifying licensees will have five (5) working days to submit their applications to the Authority i.e. applications must be submitted by no later than 16h00 on Wednesday, 17 November 2021.
ICASA added that it believes that it is in the best interest of the public to have a provisional spectrum licensing arrangement in place over the next 7 months.
“This will enable all other inherent licensing processes to conclude while mitigating any possible service disruptions.”
ICASA Chairperson, Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, said: “ICASA is not a spectrum-hoarding regulator. All we want is ultimately a competitive, transparent, and all-inclusive spectrum licensing regime and plans are afoot in that regard. The provisional spectrum licensing arrangement is an improved pro-competitive interim measure but is not a permanent process considering its limited participatory scope. This provisional arrangement is tailored to deal with any network issues which may affect the provision of services to consumers in the intervening period.”
ICASA reiterated that it remains committed to permanently licence the high demand spectrum in accordance with the truncated timetable as published on 1 October 2021.