The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased demand for high-quality mobile network services across South Africa.
This has been confirmed by leading South African mobile networks.
A large reason for these unprecedented mobile connectivity demand levels is that more users are working and learning from home.
This has resulted in increases to both work and leisure connectivity demands from users – including demand for cloud, video conferencing, and content streaming services.
The increased demand for mobile network services has been so significant that it resulted in ICASA making temporary emergency spectrum available to South Africa’s mobile network operators across the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.6GHz, and 3.5GHz bands.
This spectrum was swiftly implemented by network operators and has allowed them to deal with the increased demand for data.
Concerns for the future
However, South African networks will lose access to this temporary spectrum at the end of November 2020.
This means that while mobile networks are utilising additional spectrum to solve immediate problems, they may have challenges when it comes to making investments into long-term network improvements.
This is compounded by the fact that the spectrum allocation process in South Africa has been notoriously slow, with countless delays resulting in mobile networks repeatedly being left in the cold.
Mobile networks such as MTN and Vodacom are also operating with less permanent spectrum than many operators in other African countries – despite significant demand for mobile connectivity in South Africa.
It is therefore important that the current temporary spectrum winners are guaranteed the opportunity to replace it with permanent spectrum.
ICASA can allay these fears by accelerating the licensing process to a date before 30 November.
Alternatively, it can extend the temporary spectrum licenses until permanent licenses have been issued.
By doing so the government can align its decision-making with a future that develops broadband connectivity across the country.
Investment into rural areas
Spectrum also incentivises mobile networks to roll out affordable coverage in rural areas to address the digital divide.
The government could also offer public funding to mobile networks to connect disadvantages South Africans.
This is an investment into the future of the South African economy, as it will allow more South Africans to access the educational and empowerment opportunities that data connectivity provides.