What the Spectrum War in South Africa Means For You

It’s no secret that South Africa is in desperate need for additional radio frequency spectrum. Unfortunately, we have a legacy of painstakingly slow spectrum allocation. At the time of this post, it’s been around 17 years since fresh spectrum was released by the regulator, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). Five previous attempts to auction spectrum have already failed. 

Wondering what this all means? We’ve previously unpacked the critical need for additional spectrum allocation in mobile communication right here, exploring the current quality and capacity of mobile data services, why there are delays, and what this means for our mobile networks. 

Today though, we want to look at what the lack of additional radio frequency spectrum means for South Africa and how you as either a private citizen or a business owner might be impacted. 

A Little Background

Spectrum refers to the invisible radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over, and spectrum allocation is how these frequencies are divided among various and sometimes competing organisations and interests.

In South Africa, we have a history of lamentably slow licensing. Now, however, we are in a state where there is an urgent need to make further spectrum available on a permanent basis. This was ultimately driven in early 2020 by the onset of Covid-19, when demand on national networks soared. However, in spite of the pandemic dissipating somewhat, the need for additional allocation has not abated. 

The Spectrum War

Two years ago in a bid to assist with the Covid-19 state of disaster, ICASA granted temporary additional spectrum to mobile operators, including Vodacom, MTN, and Telkom. However, in August 2021, the communications regulator stated that they needed the return of that temporary spectrum by November 2021 and by the end of the year, ICASA had set a provisional spectrum auction date for March 2022.

In spite of numerous subsequent extensions, operators have sought an end to this uncertainty and the ruling for the withdrawal of the allocated spectrum. As a result, three of South Africa’s largest telcos are pursuing legal action against ICASA. The bulk of their argument rests on the fact that the withdrawal would disproportionately affect low-income citizens and students, as well as the fact that large numbers of South Africans are still working from home and need the stable provision of extra bandwidth – a fact which ICASA disputes, claiming that most people have returned to their offices.

To add to the narrative, Telkom has (and not for the first time) appealed for the auction in March to be delayed, saying that the framework for the auction contains a number of errors and unreasonable rules that would have negative consequences on the mobile market, including the alienation of the country’s biggest operators. According to reports, this could deprive almost 75% of South Africans of good quality digital services.

As the spectrum war rages on, you may be wondering where this leaves you.

How Additional Allocation Affects You

Regardless of where the truth of this lies, it’s undeniable that the world is in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). In order to keep up, adopt new technologies, create economic growth, and close the gap between those who have access to connectivity and those do not, the allocation of additional spectrum is necessary.

Actually, the reality is that even before the pandemic and the subsequent temporary allocation of additional spectrum, remote workforces, distance learning, and eCommerce activity was already on the rise. Not to mention the fact that it had become glaringly obvious that the lack of access by low-income citizens to the advantages and opportunities that lie in an increasingly digital economy was hindering our digital and economic progress overall. 

If it was bad before, it would most assuredly be far worse without the permanent allocation of additional spectrum. Simply, if we don’t get awarded spectrum quickly, we will have to continue to build other expensive infrastructure, which affects consumers and small-to-medium online businesses the most.

However, through the allocation of spectrum (and a blend of other mobile technologies), we will see reduced data costs, as well as increased and more inclusive access to affordable, high-speed internet. 

What we need to understand is that the future is already here and it is only through nationwide inclusion that South Africa will be able to keep up with the 4IR, close the digital gap, and enjoy the economical benefits therein on an individual and commercial level.

If you’re interested in exploring your business’ connectivity and are looking for affordable access to support that underpins the success of your strategy, then connect with us today. 

Let us help you explore the best connectivity solution for your business.

Sourced from: Huge Connect Blog. View the original article here.

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