ICASA IMT roadmap a leap forward in the spectrum debacle

September 9th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT, Featured: EE Publishers


The publication of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) roadmap for radio frequency spectrum for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) for comment has been welcomed by many of the vendors of telecommunication equipment and some South African telcos. They said it was a great leap forward.  It is significant that ICASA has followed international trends which means that South Africa can enjoy benefits of scale.

Download the ICASA IMT roadmap for RF spectrum here

ICASA Chairperson Dr SS.Mncube

ICASA chairperson Dr. SS Mncube

The publication of the roadmap in the Government Gazette of 27 August was followed by a statement a few days later by the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr. Siyabonga  Cwele, that the South African  broadband policy would only be ready in about six months, a year after it was originally  promised by the previous minister, Yunus Carrim.

The IMT roadmap, which is a consultation document, builds on the frequency migration plan published on 3 April 2013. It involves the migration of several current licensees out of the bands identified for IMT services while some licensees will have to be moved to another portion of the IMT bands.  “For bands where costs and benefits of the migration were not straightforward, ICASA conducted further feasibility studies to determine the appropriateness of the migration”, said Dr. Stephen Mncube, chairperson of ICASA, in his preamble to the document.

“The growing demand for mobile broadband in South Africa requires that more bandwidth capacity has to be  made available. At the same time, rural areas have a need for more mobile broadband coverage, and this will be best served by deploying lower frequencies that propagate wider,” he wrote.

One of the key drivers for the deployment of the IMT bands is the requirement that mobile broadband must play its role in meeting the objectives of the 2020 “broadband for all” policy which is also  encapsulated in the targets of SA Connect.  Given all the delays by government and the succession of different ministers, each with their own ideas of how to deal with broadband, South Africa is lagging behind other African countries.

The overall purpose of the draft IMT roadmap document is to identify the various options for the deployment of the identified  ITU IMT bands, with due cognisance given to feasibility studies for the 450 – 470 MHz and 880 – 960 MHz bands.

The consultation process is only the beginning. Following its completion, ICASA will specify the conditions for the use of the bands for IMT in the Radio Frequency Spectrum Plans (RFSPs). These will be subjected to limited consultation. The assignment of frequencies will follow after the RFSPs, and will be subject to a process that will eventually lead to an “invitation to apply”. This process will detail the actual mechanism of assignment. At this point, the question industry is asking is whether such  assignment will  be by auction, by “beauty contest”, or a combination of both. Will the minister’s broadband policy, now due in March 2015, spell it out?

Over the past few years, industry has given its views. MTN  and Vodacom have on numerous occasion stated that they believe that it would be in South Africa’s interest to make spectrum available to the current mobile providers who have the experience, rather than to newcomers to the industry with no experience. The latest view is from Telkom’s CEO, Sipho Maseko, who has said that South Africa will be best served by a single public-private partnership broadband network, on which all providers can offer their services. This, he believes, would also create more opportunities for success to new entrants.

Then of course there is the “digital dividend” spectrum which should become available when analogue TV stations go digital. A number of target dates have already been missed, and it is now said that this will happen by mid-2015. However, already it appears unlikely that the analogue-to-digital migration will be achieved by this date.

ICASA should complimented on the publication of the draft IMT roadmap. It is a very detailed and comprehensive document, and makes interesting reading. For companies directly involved it is important to study the document and submit comments to ICASA by no later than 16h00 on 7 October 2014.

Download the ICASA IMT roadmap for RF spectrum here

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