Good WiMax news on its way

Last year the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) published its final decision on the awarding of radio frequency spectrum.  The document included the selection process of suitable companies, how much spectrum should be allocated to each operator and whether licences will be awarded to national or regional players.

On the question of how the remaining WiMax spectrum will be dished out, ICASA decided to allocate 20MHz per operator on a technology-neutral basis, and stipulated that six additional national licences will be issued in the 2.5GHz band.

This decision drew sharp criticism from various industry players, including Intel and Neotel.  It was argued that limited spectrum not only increases the cost of providing WiMax services, but also limits the speeds which can be offered to end users.

Intel SA’s business development manager, Danie Steyn, said that a 30MHz allocation per company would make far more sense in the local environment.  Neotel’s CTO, Angus Hay, agreed:  “Neotel is of the opinion that it would not be possible to operate a WiMax wireless access network at maximum efficiency, and pass on benefits if operators are each awarded only 20MHz of spectrum in the 2.5GHz band.”

“In particular, this spectrum limit places a limit on the transmission speed possible, which is one of the key benefits of a technology like WiMax to the end customer. Neotel therefore shares the view of many WiMax experts that 30MHz per operator (a re-use factor of 3, with 10MHz per sector, three sectors per base station) is the least required for an operator to build a network to deliver true broadband services to the customer.”

ICASA changes its tune

ICASA Chairman Paris Mashile recently indicated that the process for licensing the sought after 2.6 GHz and 3.5 GHz spectrum – typically referred to as WiMax spectrum – will be announced towards the end of July.

Mashile provided insight into what is contained in this document, which includes that the spectrum will be technology neutral, that there will be a 30% HDI requirement and that spectrum will initially be handed out on a beauty contest model followed by a spectrum auction.

The first document regarding the awarding of radio frequency spectrum states that a company to which spectrum will be allocated must be minimum 51% black owned with an emphasis on woman in line with broad based BEE.  This was widely critisized by industry, and the 30% HDI requirement is likely to be welcomed by industry as a more sensible criteria.

One of the most positive developments is that the remaining 120 MHz of 2.6 GHz spectrum is likely to be divided into four 30 MHz portions and allocated to four new licensees.  This is what industry asked for, and ICASA appears to have listened to the operators’ requests.

“This sounds very much like the initial process for getting Individual EC(N)S licenses. I’d guess at least 20 operators will make it past the beauty contest phase, which makes the details of the auction very interesting,” said well known telecoms expert Joe Botha.

WiMax spectrum allocation – how do you think it should be done?

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Good WiMax news on its way