Six network operators apply for 4G and 5G network capacity

Six mobile network operators have responded to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) invitation to apply for high-demand radio frequency spectrum, the regulator has announced.

Icasa said this marks a critical step towards the auctioning of high-demand spectrum in March 2022. The auction is scheduled to be concluded on 8 March.

The next critical milestone is on 21 February, when Icasa said it will announce the qualified bidders.

The regulator said it received the following applications by the closing date and time, in the order of submission:

  1. Cell C
  2. MTN
  3. Vodacom
  4. Telkom
  5. Rain Networks
  6. Liquid Intelligent Technologies

“We thank all applicants for participating in the process. We intend to finally see the licensing of high-demand spectrum through to completion to ensure that all South Africans have access to a wide range of communications services, including data services, at affordable prices,” said Icasa chair Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

“We value each milestone in this process, especially considering the mammoth legal challenges we have encountered along the way. Ultimately, public interest should prevail, as this process will yield positive spinoffs for the industry and society at large.”

Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, ICASA Executive Chair
Keabetswe Modimoeng, ICASA Executive Chair

Icasa planned to hold a spectrum auction in March last year, but faced legal challenges from Telkom, E-tv, and MTN.

The regulator ultimately conceded defeat, went back to the drawing board, and issued a fresh invitation to apply with the hope of auctioning the sought-after 4G and 5G spectrum this year.

Telkom once again filed papers in the Pretoria High Court, saying that Icasa had not properly considered all the issues that were raised during its previous attempt.

The network operator’s complaints were:

  1. Analogue TV spectrum — known as the “digital dividend” — is still occupied.
  2. E-tv owner eMedia has a court case about its analogue spectrum that will only be heard in mid-March.
  3. The auction doesn’t consider the competitive landscape.
  4. Icasa uses uniform caps on the amount spectrum each operator can hold — a major disadvantage for Telkom.
  5. Delay of the national wireless open-access network (WOAN).

Telkom has asked the court to issue an order forcing Icasa to essentially restart the spectrum process, as follows:

  • Launch public consultations on the various options available to license spectrum, including the effect of each option on competition in the market.
  • Public consultations on the minimum requirements for the WOAN to be effective, including the spectrum it will need.
  • Publish a draft invitation to apply and invite interested parties to submit feedback before finalising it.
  • Implement remedies that compensate for the event that E-tv might occupy some of the digital dividend spectrum at the time of licensing.

Now read: Fourth province in South Africa switching off analogue TV

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Six network operators apply for 4G and 5G network capacity