Having decided to call a halt to emergency spectrum use in November, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has now changed tack, granting licences to six wireless network operators to support extra bandwidth during the continuing coronavirus crisis.
The three-month winding-down period, which was to see emergency spectrum withdrawn at the end of November, has now been extended. The new licence offering extends spectrum usage for seven months, starting on 1 December 2021 and ending on 30 June 2022.
It could, however, end slightly earlier as there is a provision for the extra bandwidth to end three months after the termination of the National State of Disaster. However, recent news around Covid-19 seems to imply that this may not happen any time soon.
By mid-November, ICASA had received applications from all the main 5G operators – Rain, Vodacom, Cell C, Telkom, Liquid Intelligent Technologies and MTN. The bands involved are the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2300MHz, 2600MHz and 3500MHz bands.
While this must be slightly frustrating for ICASA, which faced legal challenges over the withdrawal of provisional spectrum as recently as mid-October, it will at least earn the government some money. All licensees will be required to pay a spectrum acquisition fee, a spectrum usage fee and an up-front application fee – a total estimated at about ZAR 200 million (about $12.35 million).
As for the planned spectrum auctions, which could bring the need for emergency spectrum to an end, these certainly won’t happen this year as had once been hoped.