Icasa grants fresh temporary spectrum to six network operators

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  • Network providers Vodacom, Cell C, Telkom, Liquid, Rain, and MTN have been granted temporary spectrum.
  • The application process will add R200 million to the fiscus.
  • The new round of temporary spectrum will be extended for seven months, starting from December.

The communications regulator has extended temporary spectrum licences to six network operators following a fresh application window under the ICT Covid-19 National State of Disaster Regulations.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) said the new licences will be valid for seven months, starting from 1 December to 30 June 2022, or three months after the termination of the National State of Disaster - whichever comes first.

Network providers Vodacom, Cell C, Telkom, Liquid Intelligence Technologies, Rain, and MTN are the recipients of the temporary frequency service. The licences are issued in respect of radio frequency spectrum for the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2600 MHz and 3500 MHz bands. 

According to the regulator, provisional licence holders will be required to pay an acquisition fee, as well as a spectrum-usage fee, in addition to the up-front application fee. The process is expected to add R200 million to the national ficus.

"This provisional spectrum assignment remains an interim measure, intended to improve communication services for consumers in the intervening period, with the goal being to permanently license the spectrum through an auction commencing in March 2022," said Icasa chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng.

"This provisional licensing phase attempts temporarily to address competition concerns and levy appropriate fees, but a more all-inclusive regime will be yielded through a competitive bidding approach," he said.

Icasa had initially granted provisional spectrum to companies at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, in what was meant to provide additional data capacity.

Vodacom, MTN and Telkom had objected to Icasa's decision to withdraw the temporary spectrum by the end of November and approached the court for an application for an urgent interdict. The case was later withdrawn following the opening of a new application process.

Mobile operators had argued that  temporary spectrum had allowed them  to roll out 5G services beyond big cities, and that there had been a marked demand for internet usage since the onset of the pandemic. The regulator twice extended the duration of the temporary radio frequency spectrum between April 2020  and 31 August 2021. 

According to the regulator, provisional licence holders would  be required to pay an acquisition fee, as well as a spectrum usage fee, in addition to the up-front application fee. The process is going to add R200 million to the national ficus.

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