Icasa's invitation to apply for spectrum must be set aside, court rules

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The long-awaited auction of spectrum could see a breakthrough in SA's progression to 5G networks.
The long-awaited auction of spectrum could see a breakthrough in SA's progression to 5G networks.
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The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has officially issued an order setting aside a decision by the communications regulator to publish an invitation to apply (ITA) for spectrum, after the regulator and communication companies in the matter failed to reach a settlement over the terms of the auction.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) had issued the contested invitation in October 2020, with the intention of holding the auction by end of March 2021.

The order, issued by Judge Dawie Fourie on Wednesday, said the October 2 ITA is "reviewed and set aside" and referred the matter back to Icasa for "reconsideration". Liquid Intelligent Technologies and Rain indicated that they abide by the order.

The long-awaited auction of spectrum could see a breakthrough in SA's progression to 5G networks. But it has been bedevilled by technical and legal delays for over a decade. It has, among other things, been delayed by litigation, with parties failing to reach a settlement over contested sections of the invitation document, which some companies in the telecoms sector have said are unfavourable.

The invitation was for radio frequency spectrum licences for International Mobile Telecommunication (IMT) spectrum bands in the ranges of 703 to 790 MHz (IMT700), 790 to 862 MHz (IMT800), 2500 to 2690MHz (IMT2600), and 3400 to 3600 MHz (IMT3500) for the purposes of providing national broadband wireless access services.

A number of telecommunication companies had raised objections to the provisions of the ITA, with Telkom and e.tv in March securing an interdict against the auction. 

The withdrawal of the ITA puts the spectrum allocation in limbo, although Icasa is confident that it will be able to conclude the matter by the end of January 2022.

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