ICASA kills industry’s hope for E-band

June 2nd, 2014, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

 

At WAPA’s Future of Wireless Technology Forum there was hope that a regulatory framework could soon be in place for E and H millimetre bands. ICASA councillor, William Stucke showed his support for this in the opening presentation, but the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA)’s management dealt a blow to this notion the very next day.

Typical optical wireless  transceiver.

Typical optical wireless transceiver.

At the WAPA  Wireless Technology Forum held 29 May 2014, ICASA councillor Willem Stucke delivered the opening presentation.  Although from the outset he said these were his personal views,  it seems that some media took it as the official ICASA position. ICASA  issued a statement the next day which said that the authority  would like to distance itself from media reports that it intends to licence the extremely high frequency (EHF) radio spectrum bands in the 50GHz – 80GHz.  “The Authority would also like to categorically state that it has no plans to do so in its 2014/15 Annual Performance Plan.”

ICASA put it on record that only after it has taken a position on the matter, will it make an announcement to all stakeholders. The current position is that these statements were made by an ICASA councillor at an event on E-band technologies organised by the Wireless Access Providers Association (WAPA) on Thursday, 29 May 2014; and this was done in his personal capacity, not as representing the official view of ICASA.  ICASA currently does not have a regime under which these technologies can be type approved and allowed to be used in South Africa.

One wonders where this leaves Clr. Stucke as his contract expires later this year. Will he be reappointed? If not, it would be a great loss to the communications industry as  he understands the need for technology to move on and not to be hijacked by regulatory bureaucracy. It comes back to the need for technology to lead and regulation to follow!

Clr. Stucke said that ICASA introduced an administered incentive pricing scheme for spectrum, which took effect in April 2012. It was an attempt to model market forces, by making use of seven factors for costing spectrum usage. There are two forms of the equation, one for point to point (PtP) and the other for point to multi point  (PtMP) use of spectrum. He said that the assumption is that a spectrum licence is issued for a period of one year, and the fee for that year is paid in advance.

While the formula works well for the VHF and UF bands, it does not work for the millimetre bands, making licence fees totally unaffordable.

Several presenters at the WAPA Forum highlighted how the 60 GHz band (E-band) would provide welcome relief to transport high volumes of data  over short distances, such  as for instance between a base station  and the data aggregation hub.  All speakers agreed that increase of smartphone usage  is  creating an exponential increase in data traffic.

In an example, Clr. Stucke showed that under the current regime  the licence for a 5 GHz bandwidth link at 60 GHz  would cost R250 000 in a high density area  like Gauteng and R25 000 in a low density area where use of the millimetres bands is highly unlikely.  The simple answer is to reduce the 0,05 multiplying factor to 0,005 or even to 0,001, in which case the licence would cost R5000 per year –  making it an attractive proposition.

Clr. Stucke suggested a dynamic spectrum assignment model which would require registration in a geo-location database facilitating dynamic spectrum assignment, calculation of  possible interference and if none is found the use is authorised.   E-band  could be a licence fee-exempt allocation or a once off or an annual registration fee could be charged. Similar licensing regimes for the E and H bands are used in the UK, Europe and the USA.

WAPA is to be complimented on its initiative to start the discussion and involve industry. It is a great pity that ICASA has taken such a negative stance. One of the arguments is that if government provided addititonal funds to ICASA, the regulator  could  employ more staff to deal with these issues expediently.

So what now?

There is currently one option available, and that is optical wireless broadband, utilising infrared optical laser beams to transmit data. It operates in the frequency range of 3-4 THz and is licence-exempt world-wide, providing robust links at a 2 km range and more in low rainfall areas. According to Wietz Joubert, MD of Redline Systems, their system can handle data rates of  1 Gbps full duplex with 10 Gbps systems under development. Current systems provide a availability rate of 99,98 to 99,999%.

Monitoring the use of the E-band is almost impossible as point-point beams are pencil-sharp and cover a short distance. It is difficult to understand why ICASA cannot implement a licensing regime faster?  Surely the regularor can draw on the experiences of the FCC, the EU or Offcom in the UK. Perhaps the reason is that ICASA suffers from consultation paralysis.  Or is industry to blame for running to the courts with objections to ICASA decisions?

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