ICASA must begin the process to assign radio frequency spectrum for 5G networks, MTN chief technology and information officer Giovanni Chiarelli told MyBroadband.
At a recent 5G demonstration conducted by Ericsson and MTN, Ericsson said that although the standards for 5G have not been finalised yet, the radio specifications are fully standardised.
This means the government and ICASA can begin allocating spectrum for 5G where needed, and assign it to operators.
Chiarelli said ICASA should embark on the process to assign 5G spectrum in parallel with the 4G spectrum undertaking from the Department of Telecommunications – which is currently running.
The assignment of additional 4G spectrum is being overseen by the department, which wants to create a wireless open access network (WOAN) rather than auction off available spectrum to mobile operators.
Its WOAN plan has been controversial, and comes after years of dithering by the government and ICASA on assigning new spectrum for LTE services.
“South Africa is one of the most constrained countries in the world from this perspective,” said Chiarelli.
The department previously stated that it expects to assign high-demand spectrum by March 2019.
South Africa will fall behind
Chiarelli has now warned that unless the government ensures 5G spectrum is released quickly, it will be the first time South Africa is completely left behind when a new generation of wireless technology is released.
Large chunks of high-frequency spectrum are needed, and must be assigned, he said.
“We are talking about hundreds of megahertz to make it work,” said Chiarelli.
However, smaller allotments of lower-frequency 3.5GHz spectrum will also be needed to help cover wider areas at lower costs.
This is where MTN suggested ICASA begin its allocations – with the 3.5GHz spectrum.
“If there is no spectrum, it will be very difficult for 5G to flourish in South Africa,” said Chiarelli.