The South African government has made several promises in the past year for 2019 that will have a tremendous impact on the future of broadband.
Most of these promises involve the release of sought-after radio frequency spectrum, which has been called the lifeblood of cellular networks. Spectrum represents the capacity of a network.
However, the promises made and deadlines set in the past year were done by ministers who have since been deployed elsewhere.
4G spectrum auction
Former Minister of Telecommunications Siyabonga Cwele said that South Africa will hold an auction for 4G spectrum by April 2019.
Mobile operators have been begging for this spectrum to be released, but the ministry’s plan to issue new spectrum licences comes with a catch – it wants to create a national wholesale open access network (WOAN).
The WOAN, and the ICT Policy White Paper which proposed it, are controversial, featuring wording which suggests that the government wanted to take back the spectrum assigned to mobile operators.
Cwele repeatedly assured that the government has no intention of nationalising spectrum already assigned to operators, and has agreed to a “hybrid model”.
Since then, Cwele has been redeployed and a new communications minister – Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams – will oversee telecommunications in the country.
President Cyril Ramaphosa merged the ministries of Communications and Telecommunications in November, undoing the split of the government departments in 2014 under Jacob Zuma.
Finalise digital TV migration
Another deadline set by a former minister was that South Africa will finish its digital TV migration by June 2019.
Former Minister of Communications Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane set the target date shortly before being replaced by Nomvula Mokonyane. The department is now headed by Ndabeni-Abrahams.
The digital TV migration is a critical part of the 4G spectrum assignment process, as terrestrial TV transmissions occupy a significant chunk of prime spectrum.
Networks have said that the lower frequency spectrum that forms part of the “digital dividend” (470MHz – 850MHz) is particularly well-suited to rural 4G rollouts.
100% broadband connectivity in Gauteng
In his 2016 State of the Province Address, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said the province will reach its goal of 100% broadband connectivity by 2019.
It seems unlikely that Gauteng will make its deadline, however, and the government is unlikely to keep this promise.