While the communications industry in South Africa has not really bought into the concept of a Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN), there have recently been a few weak voices saying, “Let’s give the WOAN a chance”.
These voices sound something like this: “South Africans are innovative and have in the past pioneered new communication systems like pre-paid fixed line, pre-paid mobile, and pre-paid electricity. With no new spectrum, they made LTE work by clever refarming techniques.”
Following these assertions, the question is asked: why shouldn’t we be able to make a WOAN work and empower smaller operators to start a successful business?
Maybe government killed the WOAN concept by publishing a communications white paper and proposing bizarre ideas like taking away all the spectrum incumbent operators have and re-allocate it to a WOAN, be it only at the end of their ten-year licence.
Needless to say, this turned industry against any possible government proposal. Industry wants spectrum to create a competitive communications market. The white paper on communications was taking South Africa back to the time when government wanted to exercise control over submarine cables and who could land a cable in South Africa.
But even if the WOAN was given a chance, there do not appear to be any serious investors lining up to join a WOAN consortium. The other question is, how much spectrum should be reserved for the WOAN?
According to research carried out by the CSIR, based on 20% market share, the WOAN would require the following spectrum and that seems to be what the Minister of Communication and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams supports:
- 2 x 25 MHz of 800 MHz band (band 20)
- 2 x 20 MHz of 2600 MHz FDD (Frequency Diversity Duplex) band (band 7)
- 25 MHz of 2600 MHz TDD (Time Division Duplex) band (band 38)
The remainder of the high demand spectrum will then be available to individual licensees, but conditions will no doubt apply compelling mobile companies to buy into the WOAN.
The Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, in his recently published policy to stimulate economic growth, recommended to Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams that only minimum spectrum should be allocated to the WOAN and the balance of available high demand spectrum allocated to industry.
Over the past decade, the South African communications industry has suffered severely due to continuous interference. It is private enterprise that has built one of the best mobile networks in the world. Let the free market principles apply and we will see massive growth and lower prices.
ICASA recently announced that it will publish an Information Memorandum on the licensing process for the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum before the end of the year.
The Information Memorandum will outline the authority’s approach on the licensing of the spectrum following the publication of the Policy on High Demand Spectrum and Policy Direction on the Licensing of a Wireless Open Access Network by Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams.
According to ICASA, the Information Memorandum will also provide guidance to stakeholders and prospective applicants on the process and criteria to be applied by the Authority in the licensing of the spectrum.
“Through the publication of the Information Memorandum, the authority further provides an opportunity to stakeholders and prospective applicants alike to make inputs and representations on the proposed licensing process, associated criteria and timelines.”
Meanwhile, consultation paralysis will continue. Telco’s will not see new spectrum allocations until well into next year.
I rest my case.