ICASA comments shock industry players

ICASA councillor Marcia Socikwa’s recent comments that mobile operators have enough spectrum in the regulator’s eyes have stunned many industry players. Questions have also been raised about Socikwa’s proposed solutions to the growing capacity challenges.

Speaking on an SAFM interview, Socikwa said that the cry for additional spectrum by the mobile operators surprises her, “because they have sufficient spectrum from where we are sitting”.

“All they need to do is invest in optimising the network and improve quality of service. Then we will have a further conversation about whether they need more spectrum,” said Socikwa.

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck called Socikwa’s argument absurd, explaining that the networks had to jump through hoops to start rolling out LTE with re-farmed spectrum.

Many other industry players with which MyBroadband spoke shared Goldstuck’s view, but they asked to remain anonymous because they work for the mobile operators.

Network capacity challenge faced by networks

There has been an explosion in mobile data traffic over the last few years, partly driven by the increased use of smartphones, tablet PCs and other portable data devices.

This problem is not unique to South Africa, as the following chart from Ericsson about global voice and data traffic highlights.

Total Monthly Mobile Voice and Data as Measured by Ericsson
Total Monthly Mobile Voice and Data as Measured by Ericsson

Ways to increase radio network capacity and service levels

There are a few ways in which mobile networks can increase network capacity and the quality of service, but some of these solutions have their own challenges:

  • Increase the number of sites/towers (very expensive, and problems with interference increases)
  • Better encoding technologies (operators are already running up to date technologies like LTE, but it is an expensive solution and can only serve customers with devices which support the latest technologies)
  • Better and bigger antennas (this pose challenges with environmental approvals, and customer equipment can be a challenge)
  • More spectrum (a simple solution which has benefits to operators and consumers)

Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman added that lower frequency digital dividend spectrum can assist mobile operators to increase coverage and provide broadband to South Africans.

The following image shows the benefit of lower frequency spectrum to improve coverage with the least number of sites.

Frequency and coverage
Frequency and coverage

Spectrum value is lost if it is not used

Socikwa said that if they “keep dishing out spectrum to the major operators, it means that we cannot allow new entrants into the market.”

Many people pointed out that ICASA has not handed out spectrum which can increase competition in years. In fact, ICASA and the Department of Communications have been dragging their feet since 2006 on the handing out of valuable spectrum.

This spectrum could have helped network operators to provide better and cheaper broadband access to consumers. It could have even increased competition in the market if it was done right.

Unused spectrum is a lost resource to the country. It is therefore not like gold or platinum which can be mined later – unless it is used now, the benefits are lost.

ICASA mum on spectrum issue

MyBroadband asked Socikwa about the solutions which they would suggest for the mobile operators to solve their capacity issues without spectrum.

Unfortunately Socikwa did not provide feedback by the time of publication.

More on spectrum in South Africa

LTE and 3G spectrum: “the way it really is”

We need LTE spectrum now: Vodacom

LTE spectrum for SA: SNAFU

High speed LTE broadband hamstrung by DoC

LTE spectrum for SA: SNAFU

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ICASA comments shock industry players