Acting Minister of Communications Jackson Mthembu has announced significant changes to regulations made under the Disaster Management Act.
These changes include the removal of directives related to smartphone tracking, mobile data price freezes, and number porting.
Significant changes include the directive to track and trace individuals using smartphone location data and the lifting of the ban on mobile data price increases.
Previously, the regulations stated that mobile networks “must provide location-based services in collaboration with the relevant authorities identified to support designated departments to assist and combat the spread of COVID-19”.
The rules also required the location data of individuals who came into contact with those who had the coronavirus to be monitored.
This directive has now been deleted by an amendment made on 8 May 2020 to the Disaster Management Act.
The other amendments included the deletion of paragraph 12 of the directions, which prohibited the increase of mobile data prices and the porting of mobile numbers.
These changes were effected immediately from publication on 8 May, which means that mobile networks will be able to increase data prices and offer number porting services again.
Additionally, South African mobile operators are no longer required to provide user location data to the government for its track-and-trace initiative.
These changes also apply to other “licensed entities” such as internet service providers (ISPs).
This follows after ICASA licensed additional spectrum to Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Rain and Liquid Telecom to help them cope with increased traffic due to the national lockdown.
This spectrum was released for the duration of the national state of disaster with the aim of easing network congestion, and it has enabled operators to maintain the quality of broadband services.
Vodacom has taken advantage of this additional spectrum and its roaming agreement with Liquid Telecom to launch its 5G mobile network in South Africa.
This network supports both mobile and fixed-wireless services, and is currently available on 20 live 5G sites – 18 of which are in Gauteng, and 2 in Cape Town.
Vodacom has stated that it will continue to offer 5G connectivity through its roaming agreement with Liquid Telecom after it loses access to the temporary spectrum allocated by ICASA for the duration of the lockdown.