Crucial broadband spectrum in SA: wait some more

The government, working with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, intends to resolve South Africa’s spectrum shortage in the “short-to-medium term”.

This is according to the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele, who was speaking to attendees of the Southern Africa Telecommunications Networks and Applications Conference (Satnac) in Port Elizabeth on Monday, 1 September 2014.

Over the last few years, mobile network operators in South Africa have said that their lack of additional spectrum is one of the main barriers to wider deployment of Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology.

Among the benefits promised by LTE advocates is faster and more reliable mobile broadband connections.

The government has been promising to solve the spectrum capacity problem faced by network operators for years, but nothing has come of these promises, as detailed below:

  1. In April 2012, former Minister of Communications Dina Pule said that they aimed to release a policy direction document for the assignment of high-demand spectrum during May 2012.
  2. In May 2012, the Minister backtracked on her statements and instead told Parliament that they aimed to finalise the policy direction in that financial year (by March 2013).
  3. Needless to say, this didn’t happen, but former Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim said in February 2014 that the draft Policy Direction had been developed.
  4. As of 1 September 2014, we’re still waiting for the Policy Direction, along with the assignment of the spectrum.

Despite receiving no additional spectrum in the frequency bands set aside for LTE, operators in South Africa have worked around their restrictions in an effort to offer LTE services.

Vodacom and MTN have both “refarmed” spectrum used by their voice network (in the 1,800MHz band) and rolled out LTE networks in the capacity they freed up.

Jan Vermeulen is a guest of Telkom at SATNAC 2014

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Crucial broadband spectrum in SA: wait some more