Bad news for 5G in South Africa


Communication Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has released the policy on high demand spectrum and policy direction on the licensing of a wireless open-access network (WOAN).

The policy document punts the benefits and the need for the open-access wireless network for South Africa to increase competition and benefit consumers.

While there is a strong focus on the planned WOAN, it is thin on details regarding the spectrum which will be assigned to mobile operators.

It does, however, give the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) the ability to move forward with the spectrum allocation.

The regulator has been instructed by Ndabeni-Abrahams to assign spectrum to the WOAN and mobile operators at the same time.

5G spectrum will take a long time

The bad news for those looking forward to rapid 5G deployments in South Africa is that additional 5G spectrum is unlikely to be given to mobile operators anytime soon.

Ndabeni-Abrahams directed ICASA to investigate and report to the Minister on the spectrum requirements of 5G in bands lower than 6GHz and the millimetre wave (mmW) bands.

The investigation should cover the affected bands, the required ecosystem to support 5G in these bands, and the implications of the licensing of these bands.

The minister said this report should be provided to her within six months after the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC -19).

WRC -19 takes place from 28 October – 22 November 2019 in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, which means the report is likely to be produced by 22 May 2020.

The minister said the licensing of the 5G candidate bands will be informed by the outcome of the ICASA investigation and report. She will thereafter issue a separate policy direction on the 5G candidate bands.

In short, this means that mobile operators will not get any additional 5G spectrum this year.

It also means that the launch of commercial 5G services may be delayed for any telecoms companies which do not already have 5G spectrum.

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