Vodacom eyes 2.6GHz for 4G spectrum

2014-05-19 11:20
Mobile broadband internet is vital to economic growth. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Mobile broadband internet is vital to economic growth. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The critical shortage of mobile broadband spectrum will limit the ability of mobile operators to roll out high speed data networks, and Vodacom said that it is in discussion with the government on solutions.

"Where we are at the moment is that there's 2.6 [GHz] spectrum available obviously which I think they can allocate. And government should look at allocating that," Shameel Joosub, Vodacom Group CEO told News24.

The operator said that 51% of its customers use data as demand continues to grow for internet services.

However, the lack of spectrum allocation has retarded operators' ability to roll out high speed services.

The delay flies in the face of Communications Minister Yunus Carrim who had imposed March 2014 deadline for clear guidelines on spectrum policy.

Broadband policy criticism

"Obviously, we have to move with speed too on spectrum policy. We aim to finalise the Spectrum Policy by March 2014. This includes the issue of high-demand spectrum for broadband, which is linked to digital migration," said Carrim at the Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference in late 2013.

The government produced a draft national policy on broadband, but it was criticised for providing for an entity which would manage spectrum.

"The draft broadband policy as published on October 25 by the department of communications does give us pause and does raise some questions given its insistence on a wholesale open access entity which is unnamed, unfunded, unclear," Peter Lyons, director of Public Policy Africa Middle East at the GSM Association told News24.

He warned that an arrangement as proposed could facilitate corruption.

"Governments and those within governments who have an interest in positioning themselves between the mobile sector and the economy - we will see more of this kind of discussion; in some countries there's a kind of nostalgia for the days of telecom monopolies."

Smartphones demand high speed data access. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Joosub said that Vodacom was investigating the possibility of utilising the 800MHz frequency, ideal for mobile broadband, in areas where it was not being employed.

"The second part is that we're working with government at the moment to see how we can use some of the spectrum that's not utilised in certain areas. Obviously, not just for us, but for the industry - that's in the 800MHz range."

Broadband coverage

Vodacom on Monday also announced that it had secured shareholder agreement to buy 100% of Neotel, and the company intends to roll out fibre broadband services to complement its data network infrastructure, should the deal get regulatory approval.

"With the growth of data at 80%, it's imperative that we have access to spectrum and that's why the Neotel transaction is also an important milestone for us," said Joosub.

He said that while the 2.6GHz spectrum could be used for broadband services, the company was focused on the 800MHz range.

"I think the 2.6 spectrum is doable, but one must understand that the 2.6 spectrum is purely for capacity. The real spectrum that is required is that 800MHz spectrum that is currently being occupied by the broadcasters."

The Draft National Broadband policy has identified allocation of spectrum as a challenge to rolling out high speed services to meet the government's stated goal of 100% broadband coverage by 2020.

"Delays in the allocation of high-demand spectrum to roll out the next generation (4G) networks creates a severe constraint on operators' ability to meet demand and improve broadband uptake in the access networks," says the document.

Joosub said that it is unlikely that TV free to air broadcasters would be moved off the broadband spectrum soon.

"They can't allocate the 800 - it will take at least three years to get the broadcasters off. So if we can find a way to use some of that spectrum in the meantime - the parts that are unutilised - that will provide some relief."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    gsma  |  vodacom  |  yunus carrim  |  broadband  |  mobile  |  internet

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