Following more than a decade of delays and fraught recent legal fights, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has announced a new timetable for the auction of high-demand spectrum.
South Africa's high data prices and slow rollout of new technologies such as 5G have been blamed on the delay in the auction.
Icasa now expects that the spectrum will be allocated to local companies by the end of March 2022. That will be a year after the auction was supposed to be completed – it has since been halted by legal action from Telkom, e.tv and MTN.
"All things being equal, we envisage to licence the IMT spectrum no later than end of March 2022," Icasa chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng said in a statement on Friday.
"We would like to urge all interested stakeholders to participate fully in this consultative engagement and to engage openly and robustly to ensure that no further impediments are placed in the way of the finalisation of this critical economic intervention," Modimoeng added.
The new time frame for the auction now includes a closing date to receive new and revised applications to take part in the auction (31 January 2022); the announcement of qualified bidders (21 February); and the start of the auction process (1 March).
Last month, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria set aside a decision by Icasa 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.
Telkom contended that the process is tilted in favour of the country's large operators, Vodacom and MTN, and would disadvantage smaller players.
MTN also launched a legal bid against the auction, as it is opposed to Icasa's plan to allow smaller network operators to have a first pick of the spectrum being made available, in what is known as "opt-in lots".
MTN and Vodacom are classified as Tier 1 companies, and are not allowed to participate in an initial "opt-in" round of the auction. MTN is of the view that the system may deprive it of an opportunity to optimally participate in the available bands.
On Friday, Icasa also announced new dates for the applications for the new wholesale Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN), which will be a new entity that will sell network connectivity to telecommunications providers.