A sound regulatory framework is vital for the future of wireless technologies in South Africa.

The first Future Wireless Technologies Forum, held on 29 May, brought together service providers, equipment manufacturers, and stakeholders from government and the regulator to better understand the possibilities, challenges, and commercial implications of wireless technologies.

At the moment, the regulator does not have a licensing framework for frequencies above 30GHz. The focus of the day was on the regulatory framework, as well as the technical and business rationale for solutions in the millimetre wave (mmW) band, with focus on V-Band (60GHz) and E-Band (70 & 80GHz).

More than 100 individuals attended the Forum, including service providers such as Vodacom, Neotel, Telkom Mobile, Internet Solutions, and Comsol, as well as over 20 representatives from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

The day began with an introduction to interference, licensing, and pricing regulations, followed by an overview of millimetre wave, and the impact of weather on wireless transmissions at various frequencies.

In heavy rain, transmissions in V-Band suffer dramatically, which is one of the reasons why it is license-exempt or light-licensed in many other countries. South Africa’s weather, being relatively dry by worldwide standards, makes it an ideal candidate for regulation promoting commercial use in these bands.

WAPA and most of the industry representatives in attendance openly promoted the assignment of spectrum.

Neotel was perhaps the most vocal critic of the slow pace of spectrum assignment, commenting that they have had test licenses for four years but are still waiting on the regulatory and pricing framework to commercialise this; Internet Solutions argued that wireless broadband links could be deployed much faster than fibre and can therefore form medium-term solutions for high speed connectivity.

With Linden Petzer from the Department of Communications commenting that these bands will play a key role in achieving the objectives of SA Connect, ICASA Councillor William Stucke, who spoke in his personal capacity, took pains to clarify that regulations must follow due process according to mandated review cycles, and that recent amendments to the Electronic Communications Act and ICASA Act should allow ICASA to respond more quickly.

He added that a framework for the TV White Space (TVWS) bands was due to be finalised by the end of this financial year.

Ronnie Seeber, GM of Engineering and Technology, confirmed the existence of a project in the current budget to review the regulation and / or pricing of the 50GHz – 80GHz range, planned within this financial year.

In answer to the question “what next?”, WAPA will publish a white paper on spectrum policy in the upcoming weeks. This aims to serve as the basis for a series of continued discussions between the Regulator and industry, which can work together within the framework of the FWT Forum to promote and prioritise spectrum regulation and allocation by applying international best practices to our sector.