Telecom regulators across many countries across Africa are beginning to focus on available spectrum licenses to advance digital migration.
While the majority of countries failed to meet the ITU’s June 2015 migration deadline, there is an increasing number that are auctioning spectrum licenses to generate revenue and empower operators to leverage resources and contribute towards this migration process.
According to Lance Fanaroff, joint CEO at Integr8, says South Africa, by all accounts, is lagging in this process and the situation involving the regulator ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) remains precarious and more needs to be done.
As a leader in technology services integration, Integr8 is closely following developments within South Africa’s telecommunications space. In July ICASA initiated a controversial move by inviting applicants to apply for 700MHz, 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum licenses.
According to regional media the auction is scheduled for January 2017, and the move has triggered a response from the Telecoms and Postal Services Ministry and a threat to take legal action against ICASA. The Ministry has reportedly argued that ICASA has not complied with legislation, and that there is no clear policy governing spectrum.
Although the situation is ongoing, it does reflect South Africa’s difficulty in cementing its position regarding spectrum management and regulation.
“Spectrum allocation and management is critical to expanding the country’s telecommunications services and capability. It is unfortunate that key stakeholders are struggling to align with each other in the best interests of mobile broadband coverage in the country. We are confident that a resolution will be found sooner rather than later,” Fanaroff continues.
He adds that available spectrum is an issue that continues to impact on the discussion, and it is no secret that policy makers continue to urge the private and public sectors to collaborate to iron out issues that continue to hamper progress in the rollout of affordable and accessible broadband connectivity.
Jan Roux, CIO at Integr8, adds that the auction process should be addressed. “Although we all agree that the additional spectrums need to be allocated as soon as possible, the planned auction process by ICASA will definitely benefit the bigger players who have very deep pockets. In return, this will just add to an already monopolized industry, and will exclude all the potential smaller players. This is unfortunately not good news for the end user the long run,” Roux continues.
Going forward the reality of the situation is that spectrum auction will go ahead in the South African context and the likelihood is that any legal action taken will hamper already slow progress – something the country can ill afford if it wants to keep up with its counterparts across Africa.
Fanaroff believes the spectrum issue could be a blessing in disguise and presents the telecommunications industry to rectify legacy problems and progress to a point where authorities represent a source of help, of empowerment and of effective regulation that fosters healthy competition.
“This is where telcos and MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) can play an important and lasting role,” Fanaroff concludes.