Icasa eyes international markets for benchmark of open access network

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Icasa has started looking at international markets for best practices in wholesale open-access network operations.
Icasa has started looking at international markets for best practices in wholesale open-access network operations.
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  • The communications regulator says it is looking to other countries for the best way to allocate the wholesale open access network.
  • The WOAN was meant to be allocated alongside high-demand spectrum, but the process was put on hold late last year.
  • It is meant to improve access to broadband connectivity and boost competition in the ICT sector.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) says it is looking abroad for a feasible way to allocate the wholesale open-access network (WOAN), which is meant to improve access to broadband connectivity.

The policy - which was intended to improve competition in the country's mobile market - was put on hold in November 2021 as the auction of high-demand spectrum was prioritised. But it has long been a key part of the strategy to transform the telecommunications industry.

With the spectrum auction concluded, the regulator is now reaching out to other countries across the globe to find the most suitable model to allocate WOAN.

The open-access-network model was proposed as part of the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, published in 2016 under then minister of telecommunications, Siyabonga Cwele.

The WOAN model operates as an aggregator network that allows retail traffic from small retail operators and Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) - that do not have the commercial capacity - to access large-scale telecommunications infrastructure to deliver services.

Established operators were expected to buy 30% of the WOAN capacity, creating a crucial off-take for WOAN licence holders. 

READ | Government goes back to the drawing board on open-access network policy

Icasa chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng says the regulator was working hard to engage with other international jurisdictions to learn more and develop a holistic approach to the WOAN process.

According to Modimoeng, a priority is "clearer guidance in terms of how effective and economical this licensing process will be".

Modimoeng reiterated that the aim is to introduce "an additional credible player with a view to promote competition in the ICT sector for the benefit of all South Africans".

Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka said the regulator was engaging countries in various parts of the world, without divulging any specific benchmark model.

Mexico, Rwanda and Kenya have the open access network model, however, the bankruptcy  of Mexico's shared network ALTAN Redes has raised questions over the viability of the model.

In November, Cabinet announced that it had approved an amendment of the policy on the licensing of the wholesale open-access network, opening the amendments for public comment. The proposed amendments removed the requirement for the licensing of the WOAN.

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