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Temporary spectrum to expire at the end of March – Why this will hurt everyone

Telkom and Etv recently won an interdict against ICASA which has forced the authority to pause its spectrum auction plans until their case is heard.

ICASA has committed to appealing this ruling, and said it will have to pause all processes regarding the licensing of spectrum and the WOAN.

Arguably the most pressing issue that has arisen due to this news is the expiring temporary spectrum allocations in South Africa.

As it stands, the temporary spectrum allocation – which has supported mobile networks waiting for permanent spectrum to be allocated – is going to expire at the end of March 2021.

There has not been any word from ICASA on whether it will extend this deadline, and with mere days until the temporary spectrum allocation expires, the potential ramifications loom large.

Mobile networks have seen increased traffic on their networks during the national lockdown (for example, Vodacom data usage increased by 86%) and the temporary spectrum allocation has been key to managing this extra demand.

Therefore, if ICASA does not extend the temporary spectrum allocation, this could result in reduced mobile network quality.

The South African Communications Forum (SACF) said it is concerned with the delays to the spectrum auction and has stressed the importance of extending the temporary spectrum allocation.

“At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, operators were granted a slight reprieve by the granting of temporary spectrum which has offered some relief to operators battling with congested networks,” said the SACF.

“The temporary spectrum has been granted until 31 March 2021, which we are hopeful will be extended for the duration of the delay to mitigate the harm to consumers and the degradation of services.”

Spectrum is key

The temporary spectrum allocation was a necessary and welcome move by ICASA, as it has supported South Africans through the tough period of the national lockdown.

Businesses have been able to keep working remotely as they could stay connected, and South Africans have been able to keep in contact with their friends and family.

In January, MTN CEO Godfrey Motsa said the release of temporary spectrum made it possible for MTN to serve South Africans well during the national lockdown.

“With more spectrum, MTN has been able to continue expanding and enhancing our world-class network, we’ve been able to bring more people online and we have been able to reduce prices,” said Motsa.

“The collaboration between government, ICASA and business works, and when we get it right, all South Africans benefit.”

The SACF agreed that the temporary spectrum allocation is key to improving the lives of South Africans during these difficult times.

“Further delays to the licensing process of the high-demand spectrum will continue to severely impact economic growth and has been cited as one of the reasons for the recent investment downgrades.”

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Temporary spectrum to expire at the end of March – Why this will hurt everyone