The plan for 4G and 5G spectrum in South Africa

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has published its information memorandum for the licensing of 4G and 5G spectrum in South Africa.

It invites comments on the regulator’s views on the licensing of spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.3GHz, 2.6GHz, and 3.5GHz radio frequency bands.

ICASA said that the frequencies would be licensed for the purpose of providing national broadband wireless open access services.

Specifically, ICASA said it was looking at the following frequency ranges:

  • 703–790MHz (IMT700)
  • 790–862MHz (IMT800)
  • 2,360–2,400MHz (IMT2300)
  • 2,500–2,690MHz (IMT2600)
  • 3,400–3,600MHz (IMT3500)

“These bands complement each other in the sense that they fulfil the requirements for capacity and coverage which make them suitable for rural and urban areas and for bridging the digital divide,” ICASA said.

“Digital divide” is a term used in the telecommunications industry to refer to the disparity between people who have access to broadband and other communications services, and those who do not.

The obligations ICASA wishes to place on industry players who bid for this spectrum include:

  • Data services must have an average upload speed of 15Mbps and the “downlink user experience” must have a throughput of at least 30Mbps to 100% of the population of South Africa by 2025.
  • Bidders must first roll out broadband networks to 97% of the population in all identified underserviced areas before they will be allowed to roll out to urban areas.
  • Network operators will have three years from the date the 700MHz and 800MHz spectrum becomes available to provide services to all identified underserviced areas.
  • Successful licensees will be obligated to provide open access to a minimum of three mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). FNB’s cellular service provider is an example of an MVNO which operates on top of Cell C’s network.
  • MVNOs must be 51% owned by historically disadvantaged groups.
  • Operators must buy a minimum of 30% of the capacity on the WOAN when it launches.
  • ICASA will also impose obligations on the WOAN, including non-discriminatory access, transparency, and affordable prices on a cost-oriented basis with reasonable rate of return.

Spectrum auction

ICASA’s proposal is for there to be an auction to award the spectrum to the highest bidder. Those who wish to apply for the spectrum will be free to bid on any of the groups of spectrum that ICASA divided into lots.

One lot of spectrum will be reserved for a national wireless open-access network (WOAN), and the remainder will be auctioned to private industry.

ICASA proposed five different configurations for these lots, screenshots of which are embedded below.

“The reserve price for each lot will be different and will be determined by the Authority,” ICASA said.

“In this regard, stakeholders and prospective licensees are specifically invited — having consideration to the options outlined in Tables 1 to 7 below as well as the stated policy objectives — to make representations on the factors and/or principles that the Authority should consider in determining the reserve prices applicable to each lot.”

ICASA 4G and 5G spectrum assignments - Option 1 ICASA 4G and 5G spectrum assignments - Option 5 ICASA 4G and 5G spectrum assignments - Option 4 ICASA 4G and 5G spectrum assignments - Option 3 ICASA 4G and 5G spectrum assignments - Option 2

Anyone interested in submitting feedback to ICASA regarding its views on the matter was invited to send written representations by 16:00 on 31 January 2020.

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The plan for 4G and 5G spectrum in South Africa