Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub has stressed the need for spectrum allocation in South Africa, arguing that it is necessary for the digital evolution of the country.
Speaking in an interview with MyBroadband, Joosub said that government’s plan to enable the fourth industrial revolution in South Africa requires expediting the allocation of both 4G and 5G spectrum.
The government was meant to release a policy directive on spectrum allocation in April 2019, but this was delayed ahead of the national elections.
Now that the political campaigning is over, the telecommunications industry is once again waiting expectantly for progress to be made on spectrum allocation.
Joosub told MyBroadband that the launch of 5G services is not possible unless the required spectrum is made available, adding that the cost to carry a MB of data is also severely impacted by the unavailability of spectrum.
Starved for spectrum
Joosub said a lack of spectrum makes it far more expensive to build out a mobile network, which in turn means it is more difficult to lower mobile data prices.
“You have to drive down the underlying cost to produce a MB of data to lower prices, and essentially spectrum gives you the ability to do that,” Joosub said.
“Today what happens is you build a site, put load on the site, and if you run out of capacity, you add more radios. When you are finished with radios, the typical thing to do is to add more spectrum.”
However, if telecommunications companies do not have access to more spectrum, they are forced to build more sites and begin the whole process again.
“The problem is we are not spending it as optimally as we could be,” Joosub said.
He added that the length of time it takes for mobile data prices to fall will depend on exactly how much spectrum is made available.
“It also depends on how we are going to get the spectrum, whether it will be staggered or released all at once.”
5G spectrum needed
Joosub said that South Africa placed significant importance on the fourth industrial revolution, and 5G is a key enabler for this initiative.
“I think it will be a travesty if we don’t get access to 5G soon,” Joosub said. “We are are putting a big focus on the fourth industrial revolution as a country, and we need to give the telcos the ability to create the underlying infrastructure that is going to be required for this.”
He said that a key pillar for that infrastructure is data networks, and more specifically 5G.
“I think we should allocate both the 4G and 5G spectrum now,” he said. “That will give the telcos the ability to build the required infrastructure and customers could watch the space to see shifts in mobile data pricing.”
While he said that Vodacom would not be able to deploy 5G services without additional spectrum allocation, he added that the company would contemplate partnerships to accomplish this end if the required spectrum is not made available.
“We need to be able to get access to spectrum to be able to offer 5G services,” he said. “If need be, we could partner with another company to deliver this, but we have not made any commitments or had any discussions as yet.”
“There will come a point where we have to look at how we carry on,” he added. “It is a possibility that we could do it with a partner, as there are some people who have the right spectrum.”