South Africa’s spectrum process is slow, complex, and holding back innovation

South Africa is going to face multiple challenges as more devices are connected to the Internet, with many of them using wireless technologies.

That’s according to Mike Silber, the head of legal and commercial at Liquid Telecom, who was addressing delegates at SATNAC 2016.

The challenges include expanding wireless network capacity and introducing technical innovation for wireless networking, due to the complexity of allocating new frequency spectrum in the country.

“[South Africa’s] spectrum process is byzantine, and I would argue even Kafkaesque,” said Silber.

This impairs South Africa’s ability to drive Internet of Things innovation, specifically with regards to local technology, where local innovators can drive adoption, said Silber.

South Africa tends to be a passive consumer waiting for the latest “smart” devices to be imported, hoping they are compatible, he said.

Silber used sensor networks as an example, explaining that they face significant battery life challenges – specifically in remote areas or places where power is a challenge.

Sub-gigahertz spectrum is ideal for wireless applications requiring long range and low power consumption. Narrowband transmissions can transmit data to distant hubs, often several kilometres away, without hopping from node to node.

This long-range transmission capability reduces the need for multiple base stations or repeaters, said Silber.

There are also large numbers of 2.4GHz devices based on standards such as ZigBee, Bluetooth Smart, and Wi-Fi, including the 802.15.4 standard for wireless sensor networks.

Unfortunately, the history of spectrum licensing in South Africa does not provide much hope that ICASA will be able to face these challenges in a timely and flexible way.

Considering South Africa’s spectrum licensing history, Silber’s assessment is one that rings true.

More on South Africa’s spectrum fight

ICASA spectrum fight, the courts must decide: Minister

Spectrum court case will provide clarity for South Africa

Telkom considers suing Icasa over spectrum

Telecommunications Ministry files legal suit to block sale of spectrum

The BEE and speed requirements of South Africa’s R12-billion spectrum auction

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South Africa’s spectrum process is slow, complex, and holding back innovation