Telkom wants spectrum auction delayed

Telkom has asked the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to postpone the country’s next high-demand radio frequency spectrum auction until 2025.

The telecoms company announced this move in its interim results for its 2023/2024 financial year, published on Tuesday.

Icasa has plans to complete the licensing of more high-demand spectrum by the end of March 2024.

The spectrum will allow mobile operators to increase the capacity and performance of their networks, potentially paving the way for cheaper data costs over the long term.

Telkom said it wants this process to be pushed back to 2025 because Icasa still needs to complete “studies” in preparation for the auction.

It also said the current challenging economic environment, including the impact of load-shedding, would make it particularly difficult for Telkom and other market participants to partake in the auction.

Telkom said it had not yet received a response from Icasa regarding its request.

Telkom CEO Serame Taukobong told MyBroadband that operators spent money upfront in researching spectrum allocations.

“I think if you look at what’s being made available right now, it is very unclear from Icasa,” Taukobong said.

“That is our concern. It’s quite premature to be issuing this spectrum at this time.”

Responding to questions at Tuesday’s results presentation at the JSE, Taukobong said they would likely not participate in the auction if Icasa held it in 2024.

Serame Taukobong
Serame Taukobong, Telkom CEO

After public consultations, Icasa has finalised 10 Radio Frequency Spectrum Assignment Plans (RFSAPs).

These plans set out the categories of use for spectrum — including the spectrum available in a band and technical parameters pertaining to its use.

As of April 2023, Icasa had finalised the following RFSAPs:

  • 450 MHz to 470 MHz (IMT450)
  • 703 to 733 MHz and 758 to 788 MHz (IMT700)
  • 733 MHz to 758 MHz (IMT750)
  • 791 to 821 MHz and 832 to 862 MHz (IMT800)
  • 825 MHz to 830 MHz and 870 MHz to 875 MHz (IMT850)
  • 880 MHz to 915 MHz and 925 MHz to 960 MHz (IMT900)
  • 1,427 MHz to 1,518 MHz (IMT1500)
  • 2,300 MHz to 2,400 MHz (IMT2300)
  • 3,300 MHz to 3,400 MHz (IMT3300)
  • 3,400 MHz to 3,600 MHz (IMT3500)

Chairman of the Icasa committee responsible for the RFSAPs, Dr Charley Lewis, said their finalisation was a key milestone in making sufficient spectrum available to licensees to enable the rollout and uptake of 4G and 5G services across South Africa.

It also freed up additional spectrum for the auction.

“Icasa is already considering additional spectrum bands for further public consultation in the form of a new round of Radio Frequency Spectrum Assignment Plans,” Lewis said.

Icasa previously said it planned to appoint a consultant to help with the next spectrum action.

The consultant would assist in licencing the spectrum in five bands — IMT750, IMT800, IMT1500, IMT2300, IMT3300, and IMT3500.

Over five months after announcing its intention, Icasa is yet to confirm the appointment, and it is unclear exactly what spectrum will be put up for auction.

Telkom’s new spectrum bill is due by end of 2023

While it will likely have to allocate a substantial sum for spectrum licencing in the next auction, Telkom already has a R1.5 billion outstanding bill for the licencing of 20MHz of spectrum in the 800MHz frequency band due before the end of 2023.

It won this bandwidth during South Africa’s first-ever high-demand spectrum auction in March 2022.

The payment for this spectrum was delayed due to interference in the sub-1GHz bands licensed to certain operators.

Although the last analogue transmitters operating in frequency bands above 694MHz were switched off at the end of July 2023, Telkom and other operators notified that interference was still being experienced in the 800MHz band in some areas.

Icasa said it would investigate the issue and have the bands cleared by 30 September 2023, subsequently confirming this had been done.

“Telkom has already deployed the acquired spectrum in those areas unaffected by television services interference and should now be able to deploy our spectrum anywhere in South Africa based on our commercial requirements,” Telom said.

With the clearing of the sub-1GHz band, Telkom said the outstanding auction fees have become payable.

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Telkom wants spectrum auction delayed