The Department of Communications recently published its policy on high-demand spectrum, which paves the way for the distribution of this valuable resource to mobile operators in South Africa.
This a major step forward, as the government’s slow pace on spectrum assignment has severely limited the progress of mobile operators in reducing data prices and improving their offerings.
However, the policy does contain some potentially bad news for major mobile operators due to the focus on the assignment of spectrum to the Wireless Open-Access Network (WOAN).
While the policy does not dictate how much spectrum the WOAN should get, it states that it will receive preferential treatment for spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, and 2,600MHz bands.
It is expected that further delays will occur before the spectrum is finally assigned, and ICASA will need to determine specifically which spectrum slots will be assigned to each mobile operator.
MyBroadband asked Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Cell C what their response was to the publication of the spectrum policy, with specific reference to the prioritisation of the WOAN.
MTN said it welcomed the publication of the policy direction, stating that this was a step forward in alleviating the spectrum problems of local networks.
“MTN welcomes the publication of the Policy Direction by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies,” said MTN Executive for Corporate Affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan.
“This is a positive step towards the licensing of spectrum to relieve the ‘spectrum crunch’ suffered by mobile network operators.”
The mobile operator said that the direction provides an overview of spectrum licencing, and specific information would be needed from ICASA to determine the licensing process.
“The Independent Communications Regulatory Authority of South Africa (ICASA) will provide specifics on the licensing process including the determination of the spectrum slots or qualities based in the framework provided in the Policy Direction,” O’Sullivan said. ”
“MTN will wait for the ICASA licensing process to unfold and participate in that process,” she added. “We believe that the release of spectrum will contribute to the reduction of the cost to communicate”.
Telkom told MyBroadband that its position is the same as before: it wants ICASA to release spectrum to enable competition and “level the playing field” between networks.
“Telkom welcomes the amendments to the Integrated ICT Policy and the accompanying policy directions,” the company said.
“Telkom reiterates its position that high demand spectrum must be released expeditiously to inspire more investments in the sector, spur innovation and improve competition.”
“Furthermore, it is critical that the release of spectrum be predicated on the principle that emphasizes effective competition in the mobile sector,” Telkom said.
Telkom contended that healthy competition would lead to better consumer choices and sustainable lower prices for services.
“Effective competition and leveling the playing field must be ICASA’s pivot in the licensing of high demand spectrum,” the company said.
Vodacom said it is still considering the policy direction and will release a statement in the future.
“Vodacom notes the publication of the policy on high demand spectrum and policy direction on the licensing of a wireless open-access network,” the network said.
“We are currently reviewing the document and will comment in due course.”
Cell C did not respond by the time of publication.