While the auction of high demand spectrum has experienced another setback and is not likely to be allocated this year, much progress has been made compared with a year ago.
The release date of high demand spectrum remains uncertain, owing to several legal battles over the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (Icasa’s) invitation to apply (ITA).
In March, the Pretoria High Court halted Icasa’s planned spectrum licensing, which was due to start on March 31, pending the outcome of the court processes after telecommunications group Telkom moved to have the process suspended on the basis that the respective ITAs were fundamentally flawed, besides other reasons.
The auction of high demand spectrum has been at the centre of a battlefield for over ten years, with industry desperate to obtain the spectrum required to lower prices and deploy fifth-generation services.
Despite this, progress is being seen.
“We know there has been progress. We know that spectrum is now important not just to the mobile network operators Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Liquid, rain and Cell C, but it has become important to government as a source of revenue,” said Ellipsis owner Dominic Cull during the MyBroadband Conference.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni are supporting these processes and providing resources to Icasa to enable the correct implementation of the spectrum process, he said.
“To its credit, Icasa has done what it has needed to do and it has gotten it out there. Now industry is looking at that ITA and figuring out how it impacts them, because this is a game breaker event for the next 15 to 20 years. This is going to define the winners and the losers in South Africa,” Cull highlighted.
“Vodacom and MTN have also come in with applications to [review] nuances in interpretation of the ITA, whereas Telkom wants a complete stock,” he continued, noting that Telkom obtained an interdict earlier in March, which Icasa is currently appealing.
If an appeal is not granted, the case will head to a full hearing at the end of July this year, with Telkom’s position, as well as those of MTN and Vodacom, opposed by Icasa.
“It is not looking good that we will actually see the spectrum being deployed into networks this year.”
“It is, however, progress. We have an ITA that is workable. Icasa is standing by it and pushing it. I think a lot of what Icasa is raising in the courts is correct.”
“Further, there are efforts to intervene and to get some mediation [from many places] which really speaks to the importance of this process, not just for the industry but for broader South Africa,” he pointed out.