The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is forging ahead with plans to auction off sought-after radio frequency spectrum.
This is despite threats from Telkom that it would reinstate an application to interdict the auction if Icasa did not “carefully consider the prudence of proceeding”.
However, Icasa has told MyBroadband that its timetable remains unchanged.
“As matters stand, the auction is planned to take place during March 2022,” Icasa said.
Earlier today, the Acting Judge President set dates for a High Court showdown between Telkom and Icasa over the auction — 11–14 April 2022.
The auction is scheduled to conclude on 8 March. The High Court ruling could therefore invalidate the whole process.
Radio frequency spectrum is the raw network capacity used by mobile operators such as Vodacom, MTN, and Telkom to communicate between their towers and cellular devices.
They have long clamoured for the release of additional spectrum, saying that it would allow them to increase coverage, improve services, and cut prices.
However, all Icasa’s attempts to licence the precious network capacity have been mired in controversy.
Last year it faced legal challenges from Telkom, E-tv, and MTN, ultimately leading to the auction being cancelled.
Icasa soon re-issued its invitation to apply for the 4G and 5G spectrum, and Telkom then launched a fresh challenge to the process.
The partially state-owned operator’s objections are manifold:
- Analogue TV spectrum — known as the “digital dividend” — remains occupied, even in areas where Icasa said it should be vacant. Telkom is especially keen on this lower-frequency spectrum.
- E-tv owner eMedia has a court case against the communications minister and Icasa about its analogue TV spectrum that the High Court will only hear in mid-March — after the spectrum auction is set to conclude.
- The auction does not adequately consider the competitive landscape.
- Uniform caps are placed on the amount spectrum each operator can hold — a major disadvantage for Telkom that holds a substantial amount of higher-frequency spectrum.
- Icasa delayed the licensing of a national wireless open-access network (WOAN), which impacts the value of spectrum and bidding strategy.
Telkom asked the court to issue an order forcing Icasa to essentially restart the spectrum process.
This includes public consultations, issuing a draft invitation to apply that interested parties can comment on, and implementing remedies that compensate for the digital dividend spectrum being occupied.
Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions founder Dominic Cull has said a Telkom victory would delay the release of additional spectrum by at least 15–18 months.
MyBroadband asked Telkom if it would reinstate its interdict, but the operator did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
(Pictured: Willington Ngwepe, Icasa CEO)