The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has issued temporary spectrum to Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Rain, and Liquid Telecom.
This spectrum will be released for the duration of the national state of disaster with the aim of easing network congestion.
It should also enable operators to maintain the quality of broadband services and lower the cost of access to consumers.
Five spectrum bands were made available for temporary assignment: 700MHz, 800MHz, 2,300MHz, 2,600MHz, and 3,500MHz.
- 700MHz and 800MHz – Telkom, MTN, and Vodacom get 40MHz each.
- 2,300MHz – Telkom and Vodacom get 20MHz each.
- 2,600MHz – Telkom gets 40MHz, Vodacom and MTN get 50MHz each, Rain gets 30MHz.
- 3,500MHz – Telkom gets 12MHz, Vodacom and MTN get 50MHz each, Liquid Telecom gets 4MHz.
MyBroadband asked the companies which received additional spectrum when they will start to use the spectrum and what the process will be.
MTN SA’s executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan said their immediate focus is to significantly ease the congestion that they are seeing in hotspots across the country.
“This will assist us in delivering faster and more accessible connectivity to our customers during this difficult time,” O’Sullivan said.
MTN has identified specific sites and broader sectors that would benefit from the temporary spectrum allocation.
Following the allocation of spectrum, MTN has now turned its attention to a four-to-six-week radio rollout plan and adding additional capacity to the mobile core network.
O’Sullivan said they will bring the additional capacity online as soon as possible.
MTN began its modernisation network programme in 2019, to ensure readiness for the much-anticipated release of 4G and 5G spectrum.
This leaves MTN well-placed to deploy the spectrum in the 700/800Mhz and 2.6 GHz band sooner than other bands of spectrum.
The deployment of 3.5GHz will require additional antenna infrastructure and deployment in this band will be more complex.
“For the temporary spectrum bands allocated, we will have to deploy new radio units which are band-specific,” said O’Sullivan.
These are already on order and MTN is taking every step to expedite the process.
She highlighted that a key consideration is the device ecosystem, namely the device mobile technology, band and feature support.
“The mobile device is an integral part of the network and we’ve taken into account the existing device capability in these areas in order to leverage the newly deployed spectrum bands,” O’Sullivan said.
Vodacom welcomed ICASA’s decision to approve its application for temporary spectrum in all of the available spectrum bands.
In addition to the accelerated R500 million in network infrastructure investment, the temporary assignment of spectrum will help alleviate network congestion, Vodacom said.
Vodacom highlighted that ICASA still has to issue the temporary spectrum license in line with the announcement of their decision.
The licence document will contain the conditions and obligations for use of the spectrum bands assigned on a temporary basis to Vodacom.
Vodacom has started preparing its network for the deployment of the additional spectrum, where required, to add capacity and improve coverage.
The 700MHz and 800MHz bands can be deployed quickest as there are some existing sites which have radios installed which can already support these frequency bands.
However, use of the 700/800MHz will be subject to the spectrum granted actually being usable on the sites in question.
“This means that we will be ready to use portions of the temporary spectrum within the next two weeks,” Vodacom said.
This will be dependent on whether the frequencies allocated to Vodacom in the 700MHz and 800 MHz bands are not being used for either analogue or digital broadcasting.
For the other bands which have been temporarily assigned to Vodacom – 2300MHz, 2600MHz and 3.5GHz – entirely new radio equipment will need to be ordered from Vodacom’s equipment vendors.
This is a process which usually would have taken a few weeks, but Vodacom is urgently investigating how the freight and customs clearance approvals can be expedited.
Once the equipment is received in Vodacom’s warehouses, deployment of the equipment will be prioritised on the base stations which need spectrum relief the most.
Vodacom said it is committed to ensuring the spectrum is deployed as soon as possible.
Telkom spokesperson, Noma Faku told MyBroadband they have identified areas with network congestion as part of their ICASA submission.
“Telkom is currently working on the plan to deploy the allocated spectrum to these areas,” Faku said.
“Once the plan is completed, we will be in a better position to give an indication of when customers in those areas can expect improved network experience.”
Rain CEO Willem Roos applauded the government and ICASA’s quick action to release additional spectrum on a temporary basis.
Roos said they are currently working with ICASA to ensure they get access to spectrum which they can immediately deploy.
If they receive the required spectrum license, they can roll out the spectrum on their existing network equipment in the 2,600MHz band.
“This will create more capacity and assist the network to handle the increased load we have seen during the lockdown period,” he said.
MyBroadband asked Liquid Telecom for comment, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.