Vodacom and MTN will have to share 5G spectrum – Minister

When additional radio frequency spectrum earmarked for 5G networks is licensed in South Africa, the aim is for cellular network operators to share it.

This is according to the Minister of Telecommunications, Siyabonga Cwele, who was answering questions from MyBroadband about how 5G spectrum would be licensed in South Africa.

Additionally, would a significant portion of it be given to the government’s proposed wholesale open access network (WOAN), as Cwele’s department plans to do with 4G spectrum?

Cwele did not provide specifics, but confirmed that the spectrum will be shared. In line with his department’s policy on 4G spectrum, where 5G spectrum is assigned to a single network operator, that operator will be obligated to offer wholesale open access to its network.

The minister reiterated his promise that the government has no intention of nationalising the spectrum already assigned to network operators. He also confirmed plans to license 5G spectrum as soon as the global regulatory environment for it has been agreed upon.

5G spectrum licensing debate

South Africa will begin licensing radio frequency spectrum for use in 5G networks as soon as the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) concludes next year in November.

The International Telecommunications Union will hold WRC-19 Egypt from 28 October to 22 November.

Among the discussions scheduled are the frequency bands to be used in the International Mobile Telephony 2020 (IMT–2020) standard. IMT-2020 is also known as 5G.

11 frequency bands in the range from 24.25GHz to 86GHz are being studied for compatibility with existing radio communication services, and to determine the feasibility of using these frequency bands for IMT–2020.

5G spectrum licences are expected to be issued in South Africa during 2020, which the department said will put the country in a position to be among the first in the world to offer 5G services.

However, Vodacom and MTN have stated that there is no need to wait to begin the process.

ICASA could begin by licensing radio frequencies in the 3.5GHz band, which is also suitable for 5G networks.

While various bands are being discussed and tested for 5G purposes, Vodacom said ICASA should set aside as much spectrum as possible which is underutilised or unallocated in the 3.3GHz to 3.8GHz bands, and invite operators to apply for it.

Rain recently unveiled a live 5G site on its network which runs on frequencies it had available in the 3.6GHz band.

Vodacom said that ICASA should also consider spectrum in the 26GHz band which is unallocated and underutilised.

4G spectrum deadlines

While the debate over the licensing of 5G spectrum continues, Cwele has committed to release spectrum that has been highly sought after for 4G networks.

Cwele aimed to license outstanding 4G and digital dividend spectrum by March 2019. However, the ministry later added that it hopes to conduct an auction for this high-demand spectrum in April.

The department said that when the assignment process kicks off, they plan to allocate spectrum in the 2.6GHz, 700MHz, and 800MHz frequency bands.

It is worth noting that the 700MHz and 800MHz bands will only be available when South Africa completes its migration from analogue to digital TV broadcasting.

The latest deadline for digital TV migration is June 2019.

Now read: Minister publishes CSIR spectrum report and draft Policy Direction

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Vodacom and MTN will have to share 5G spectrum – Minister