The Department of Communications (DoC) has laid out its immediate priorities for dealing with radio frequency spectrum in a draft version of its new National Broadband Policy that it tabled for discussion with stakeholders.
Among the priorities were the urgent assignment of spectrum in the 800MHz and 2,600MHz bands. Mobile network operators have been clamouring for this spectrum for the roll-out of Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks.
According to feedback from the operators, the 2,600MHz band would give them the capacity to improve their networks in urban areas while the 800MHz spectrum is particularly useful for rural roll-outs.
Workshop to discuss the draft policy
The Department of Communications convened a workshop at the CSIR Convention Centre in Pretoria on Friday, 25 October 2013, to discuss the new draft policy with stakeholders.
Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim said that the current draft is by far not the final version of the long overdue broadband policy for South Africa. Once the draft has been discussed and further feedback from stakeholders considered, the policy has to be taken to SIP15, Carrim said.
He explained that the intention was to get something workable which could be “upgraded” in a year or so, after the national elections.
In sections dealing specifically with radio frequency spectrum, the DoC listed the following immediate priorities:
- The identification of unused spectrum and its reassignment;
- the removal of all bottlenecks preventing migration of terrestrial broadcasters from analogue to digital to realise the digital dividend [includes spectrum between 400MHz and 900MHz];
- the urgent assignment of 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum, followed by the assignment of 700MHz;
- enabling spectrum sharing between spectrum licensees and across services; and
- enabling dynamic spectrum allocation (e.g. TV White Spaces).
Spectrum that is required in order to offer commercially licensed services will be assigned on the basis of fair market value and with regard to the needs of the public, including safeguarding a spectrum commons for unlicensed use, the DoC said.
The document goes on to propose the creation of a national open access network, which it says will enable spectrum sharing among others. According to the draft policy, this would have the added benefit of addressing the regulatory requirement to encourage new entrants.
However, the mention of the open access wireless broadband network in relation to spectrum sharing occurs later in the document. It is not made clear whether it will be the exclusive vehicle for spectrum sharing.
When asked for greater clarity on what is being proposed for spectrum sharing, a panel of people at the workshop who were involved in drafting the policy said that the broadband policy is not meant to address spectrum issues.
A separate document dealing with spectrum policy is expected to be published soon, the panel said.