Bad news for spectrum in South Africa

South Africa will allow smaller telecommunications companies to share a part of the national wireless network, possibly further delaying the government’s long-awaited spectrum auction, according to a policy directive published in the Government Gazette Friday.

Vodacom Group Ltd. and MTN Group Ltd., the country’s largest wireless carriers, have long been waiting for a spectrum auction to continue rolling out broadband in the country and reduce data prices.

The latest directive could further delay the auction as it will allow for about 400 smaller operators to apply for licenses to be part of a wireless open access network, or WOAN.

The spectrum auction was last formally set for early 2017, but postponed due to a dispute over the process between the government and the industry regulator, known as Icasa.

“This looks like a spectrum auction will go ahead,” Dominic Cull, a telecommunications regulatory lawyer at Cape Town-based Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions, said by phone.

“The problem is that the implementation of the WOAN, and getting applications in for licenses could delay the actual spectrum auction by another year or two.”

Businesses will need to apply for licenses to be part of the WOAN, and only then will spectrum be allocated to them with reduced fees.

The policy aims to allow entry to smaller operators unable to compete for spectrum against the big operators.

Now read: Bad news for 5G in South Africa

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Bad news for spectrum in South Africa