ANC puts spectrum trading firmly back on the table


The ANC has said communications regulator Icasa must introduce a “secondary market” for spectrum trading in South Africa and create a regulatory framework that ensures this doesn’t harm competition.

This market liberalisation, which would likely be welcomed by most if not all industry players, is contained in the ANC’s discussion documents ahead of its big policy conference in July.

It’s not the first time that spectrum trading has been mooted by the ruling party. Draft amendments to the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill in 2018 proposed that spectrum licences could be traded, subject to approval from Icasa. However, the changes were never implemented.

The ANC has now made it clear that it wants to move ahead with what amounts to a significant liberalisation of the market, signalling in the policy discussion document that Icasa must introduce regulations “to enable flexible sharing models between [licensees], spectrum pooling, [and] lease and sales of spectrum licences”.

The governing party included several other changes to the mobile sector in the policy discussion document aimed at expanding mobile infrastructure and next-generation 5G services. These include that:

  • 4G should be the minimum technology offering in South Africa, with an orderly decommissioning of 2G and 3G networks.
  • The minister of communications, currently Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, should issue a policy direction on spectrum that will “promote sustainable investment in 5G and 6G technologies”.
  • South Africa should have a 5G strategy that sets out the best options in which the private sector and government can extract maximum benefits from use cases identified by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). “This strategy [is] to set out priorities for the roll-out of 5G in … smart cities and specific economic sectors such as health, education and manufacturing.”
  • Unassigned spectrum in mid-band frequencies – usually defined as between 1GHz and 6GHz – should be released to operators in 2024. A policy framework on the licensing of high-band spectrum (also known as millimetre-wave spectrum) should be developed “urgently”.
  • South Africa should align its licensing of spectrum with the cycles of the ITU on the declaration of spectrum for use for mobile broadband services.
  • Icasa should closely monitor “distortion or developments in the mobile and fixed market[s] that may stifle competition and discourage investment [in] infrastructure”.

Significantly, the ANC document also questions whether government should still be investing in ICT infrastructure assets, or whether this should be left entirely to the private sector.

“It is recommended that the government should develop an investment framework or approach that will guide its investment in, or disposal of, particular asset classes in the ICT sector.”

In the interim, however, the department of communications & digital technologies is proceeding with preparations to merge its two main ICT infrastructure businesses (excluding the partially privatised Telkom), namely Sentech and Broadband Infraco. The ANC document said this merger should be completed in the 2023 financial year.  – © 2022 NewsCentral Media



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