Breakthrough for faster, cheaper internet: Icasa issues spectrum guidelines

A local company has offered South Africans free calls. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
A local company has offered South Africans free calls. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The country’s communication regulator has released guidelines for the licencing of high-demand spectrum which is expected to improve broadband access, competition among service providers and secure lower prices for consumers.

Spectrum is a range of radio-waves that are used for communication - including radio, television and wifi. 

The release of spectrum has been marred by delays and court battles between Icasa and the ministry of communication. Spectrum has been limited in South Africa because television broadcasting is still hogging frequencies – a move from the analogue TV system to digital terrestrial television has been delayed for years. 

According to a Treasury discussion document, released in August, telecommunications prices can decline by as much as 25% in the next  three years if additional radio frequency spectrum is rapidly released.

The release of spectrum will reduce the cost of doing business and contribute up to 0.6% in economic growth, Treasury said. The unavailability of spectrum has often been sighted as among the factors hampering economic growth and nationwide roll-out of high speed internet such as 4G and 5G.

In a document released on Friday, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) said the licencing of five bands of spectrum, IMT700, IMT2300, IMT2600 and IMT3500 is aimed at providing national broadband wireless access services.

Conditions for Radio Frequency Spectrum Licence stipulates that a licencee must provide data services across the country with an average uplink of 15Mbit/s and the downlink user experience throughput of at least 30Mbit/s to 100% of the population by 2025.

Licencees will be required to roll out the broadband network to 97% of the population in a identified underserviced areas, before rolling out in the urban areas.

“We invite all interested parties to take the opportunity and make submissions to this process. It is in the spirit of administrative justice and fairness that we consult stakeholders so that we can have their views on this imminent licensing process, said Icasa acting chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng.  

According to the guidelines awarding process to industry will be done in three stages, qualification, auction and licencing.

In the qualification phase, interested parties would be invited to submit applications for lots. Qualifying applicants would then submit bids for lots they plan to acquire at reserve prices.

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