The constant machinations around the freeing up of valuable spectrum show no signs of abating. In the meantime, it is keeping the cost to communicate in South Africa artificially high and stifling mobile innovation by early-stage businesses.

This is the word from Anton Potgieter, co-founder and MD of NoPBX, who says the latest in a series of unfortunate legal proceedings keeping a valuable national resource tied up in red tape is by Telkom SA which last week interdicted the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) from holding a spectrum auction this March. Other operators had praised the regulator for striking a delicate balance for all players.

“Narrow commercial interests must give way to the greater good that will follow in the form of innovation by start-ups and a lower cost to communicate for consumers. Our economy sorely needs these twin boosts, and sooner rather than later,” he says.

GSM is the Global System for Mobile Communications, the world’s dominant cellular technology used by over 5-billion people in some 220 countries including South Africa.

“Innovation is the lifeblood of a modern economy. Small firms that can challenge how to do things better can only benefit from more access to the spectrum that powers our data-driven lives,” Potgieter adds. “South Africa’s spectrum shenanigans are for example derailing the local rollout of 5G, which is essential to keep pace with the rest of the world. The alternative is our local economy sliding further down the array of ease-of-business, mobile innovation and other critical global rankings.”

GSM mobile access already reaches almost all of the people who live within the 1,2-million square kilometre area that is South Africa. It’s the perfect platform on which to innovate for the betterment of people’s lives, Potgieter says. Innovation, however, depends in part on available radio spectrum.

NoPBX is a locally-developed, smartphone-based cloud PBX system that uses local GSM networks to turn standard smartphones into business switchboards. NoPBX has activated over 1,200 new PBX-over-GSM switchboards since its commercial launch in October 2020. The solution runs all of its calls over highly-secure GSM voice networks, effectively bypassing artificially high local data charges for its users.