More spectrum to be licensed in South Africa

More spectrum to be licensed in South Africa

It’s being widely reported in the South African press that telecom regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is planning to license additional radio frequency spectrum for mobile networks, although whether via auction or some other process is not clear.

ICASA has said it intends to release several lots of low-frequency and mid-band spectrum and has invited interested stakeholders to give their views by 4pm on 19 September 2022. It has also published an information memorandum outlining the options.

The March 2022 auction was widely deemed a success, with ICASA earning almost 14.5 billion (about US$850.3 million at present exchange rates, although a lot more at the time) for the country’s treasury in a sale that licensed 326MHz of spectrum. Of the major operators, Vodacom and MTN, bidding over R5 billion (US$293.2 million) each, took 210MHz of this. Telkom bolstered its spectrum allocation by acquiring some lower-frequency spectrum.

However, as part of a settlement with Telkom through which Telkom agreed to drop its legal challenge against the spectrum auction, ICASA agreed it would start licensing frequencies that remained unassigned by 30 June 2022. The regulator aims to finish this licensing process by 31 March 2023 – the end of the current financial year. It is therefore now embarking on the second phase of the licensing process that began with the March auction.

ICASA intends to licence the unsold band from the auction and several additional frequency bands. According to the MyBroadband website, spectrum ICASA is considering licensing includes chunks of IMT800, IMT2100,  IMT450, IMT750, IMT1500, IMT2300, IMT3300 and the 5G earmarked 4800-4990.

Some of this is already in use for analogue TV (which is in the process of being switched off), some is being used for outside broadcasting and some by government. Much of the rest is unoccupied. 20MHz in the lower frequency 800MHz band was unsold at the auction.

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