Will ICASA extend the 4G/5G emergency spectrum granted for the period of the National State Disaster?

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Post updated 26th of March 2021:

The Council of ICASA has resolved to review the ICT COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations and extend the temporary radio frequency spectrum assignments issued to licensees for another two months (from 1 April 2021 to 31 May 2021). https://icasa.org.za/news/2021/icasa-extends-temporary-radio-frequency-spectrum-assignments-for-licensees

20th March 2021

South Africa declared a national state of disaster under Section 27(1) and Section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act on 15 March 2020 in response to the coronavirus.

In April 2020 ICASA released emergency spectrum to meet the spike in broadband services demand due to COVID-19.

ICASA stated that the temporary release of high demand spectrum (HDS) applied to the duration of the national state of disaster:

A critical measure introduced by the regulations is the temporary release of high demand spectrum (HDS) for the duration of the national state of disaster in order to ease network congestion, maintain good quality of broadband services, and enable licensees to lower cost of access to consumers.”

While the state of disaster was originally set to lapse on 15 June, the act provides that it can be extended by the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister by notice in the gazette for one month at a time before it lapses.

In November 2020 ICASA council approved the amendment of the ICT COVID-19 National State of Disaster Regulations in order to extend the validity period of the temporary assignment of radio frequency spectrum to no later than 31 March 2021. The initial date within which the temporary spectrum was supposed to be returned to the authority was 30 November 2020.

The spectrum ICASA made available included:

•116MHz in the 3500MHz range, sometimes referred to as the 5G “golden band”

•40MHz in the 2300MHz band, popular for LTE ( 4G) use.

•The three largest allocations are blocks of 170MHz, 70MHz and 20MHz are all in the 2600MHz range. In some instances these are considered to be the preferred 5G band for its mixture of reach (which means fewer base stations have to be built to cover a geographic area).

Vodacom and MTN launched their own 5G mobile networks in several cities across SA, using the COVID-19 lockdown emergency spectrum allocated by ICASA. However, they are unable to expand their 5G services until more spectrum is licensed to them by the communications regulator.

Having built a 4G network already, Rain says it is leveraging its infrastructure to build the 5G network in its regulated 3 600MHz spectrum band.

The validity period of the temporary assignment of radio frequency spectrum lapses on the 31 March 2021. However, the South African spectrum auction has been delayed again, due to an interdict granted to Telkom and eTV.

As of 20.3.2021 it is not clear if ICASA will extend the temporary emergency spectrum.

My Broadband reported that if ICASA does not extend the temporary spectrum allocation, it could result in reduced mobile network quality. The South African Communications Forum (SACF): “Further delays to the licensing process of the high-demand spectrum will continue to severely impact economic growth and has been cited as one of the reasons for the recent investment downgrades. https://mybroadband.co.za/news/industrynews/390206-temporary-spectrum-to-expire-at-the-end-of-march-why-this-will-hurt-everyone.html?utm_s







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