The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is planning to auction 4G and 5G radio frequency spectrum this year.
In its Invitation to Apply (ITA), ICASA said spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2,600MHz, and 3,500MHz bands are available to be assigned to qualifying applicants.
The regulator received applications in response to its ITA from Cell C, Rain, Vodacom, Telkom, Liquid Telecom, and MTN.
ICASA said it intends to conduct an auction for the licensing of high demand spectrum by no later than 31 March 2021.
This is encouraging news for South African mobile operators, which have been struggling to get additional spectrum for over a decade.
The rapid growth in mobile data use and a lack of additional spectrum have forced Vodacom and MTN to partner with Rain and Liquid Telecom respectively to address capacity concerns.
This increases the operational costs for Vodacom and MTN, which ultimately leads to higher mobile data prices to consumers.
The planned spectrum auction will give Vodacom and MTN additional spectrum, with increased network capacity and lower data prices to follow.
There is, however, a hurdle in the road to the planned spectrum auction. Telkom has launched a legal challenge to stop the auction from taking place.
Telkom’s legal challenge is based on the fact that the “digital dividend” bands are not currently commercially viable and that ICASA has not taken the lack of competition in South Africa’s cellular market into account.
Telkom warned that if the spectrum licensing process were to continue as is, it could mess up the industry for 20 years.
World Wide Worx CEO Arthur Goldstuck said Telkom has a point that we will be stuck with this spectrum allocation for the next 20 or 30 years, so it should be carefully considered.
The risk is that a revision of the current spectrum allocation process could delay the handing out of spectrum for many years.
He added that Telkom and the government have held back the broadband industry in South Africa for 25 years.
“Wanting to protect the next 20 years while ignoring the ills of the last 25 years is a little disingenuous,” he said.
ICASA said that it will oppose Telkom’s court application against the forthcoming radio frequency spectrum auction.
Vodacom and MTN’s spectrum in different countries
To illustrate why the spectrum auction is so important for South Africa, it is instructional to look at the spectrum allocation in different countries.
Vodacom and MTN have significantly less spectrum in South Africa than in other countries where they operate.
The tables below show the broadband spectrum allocation for Vodacom and MTN in African countries.
|MTN Spectrum per Country|
|Spectrum Band||South Africa||Uganda||Ivory Coast||Ghana||Nigeria|
|Vodacom Spectrum per Country|
|Spectrum Band||South Africa||Mozambique||Kenya||DRC||Lesotho|