ICASA’s response to article on E-band

August 20th, 2012, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Dear Editor,

The article published in The Daily Maverick (and EngineerIT July 2012) by Hans van de Groedendaal refers.

The author alleges that ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) is stifling broadband by not making available the E-Band. The ICASA would like to point out that the 71 – 76 and 81 – 86 GHz bands (widely known as “E-Band”) are permitted worldwide for ultra-high capacity point-to-point communications. Wireless regulators in the USA, UK and many other countries have introduced “light licensing” schemes for managing this band. In South Africa the band is available for use as point to point links but there hasn’t been an uptake as the current fees are prohibitively high for these systems. ICASA has had meetings with a number of stakeholders including equipment suppliers such that others have been licensed on a temporary basis pending the finalisation of regulations to deploy these systems. ICASA will in time come up with a licensing regime (e.g. light-licensing) that doesn’t subject these systems to the current spectrum fee formula. The insinuation that the alleged non-availability of this band stifles broadband is devoid of truth as what limits the broadband is a combination of limits on available high propagation access spectrum and unwillingness of operators to rollout 3G services countrywide. There is no shortage of backhaul spectrum and ICASA has had no problems in meeting the demand for such spectrum.

The article, therefore, fails to mention that although these are high capacity fixed links systems, they only cover distances of approximately 1 – 3 km, which is why they can never be a solution for rural broadband access. On the other hand, the ICASA has made numerous attempts to make available the internationally harmonised access bands (e.g. 2,6 GHz and 800 MHz). These bands are particularly central to broadband roll-out nationally. Those who have been following our processes will know that the ICASA is awaiting a ministerial policy direction on how to proceed with licensing of this high demand spectrum. Therefore to link the issue of the E-Band to wireless broadband rollout is not correct on the part of the author; and sends a wrong message and perception that the problem lies with ICASA, as he did not contact the us for comment on the article.

Paseka Maleka, ICASA

Hans van de Groenendaal responds as follows:

I appreciate the response from ICASA. I believe that the criticism that I did not point out that E-band only covers a short distance is unfounded as everyone in the industry will know that at these high frequencies with a pencil point-wide beam, distances covered are short but that is exactly why the band is attractive for high bandwidth point-to-point linking between metropolitan sites. Secondly, I never suggested that it would solve rural bandwidth problems. I merely pointed out that the lack of light licensing and an appropriate fee structure is stifling industry’s ability to deploy newer, more bandwidth-rich technologies. I am sure that the industry appreciates the ICASA piloting E-band systems, but the need is to start commercial deployment. The problem is that changes to regulatory frameworks in South Africa simply take too long.

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