Draft policy clears way for 4G cell networks
Business Day - Dec 19th 2011, 08:12
Communications Minister Dina Pule yesterday issued a draft policy directive on issuing high-demand spectrum licences that ensures the introduction of new national and rural providers of broadband.
The policy directive came after an earlier statement by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) outlining its plans to start the licensing process of the high-demand spectrum next year. Icasa’s plans were in line with the policy directive. The licensing paves the way for the commercial launch of 4G networks, which companies like MTN have already been testing.
Access to the scarce and lucrative spectrum would also assist in the government’s broadband strategy, which aims to achieve universal broadband access by 2019.
Successful companies will be issued licences in the 2,6GHz and 800MHz bands. Ms Pule said the 800MHz was ideally suited for achieving nationwide broadband coverage, whereas the 2,6GHz frequency band was suited to providing the high capacity needed to carry traffic in densely populated areas.
"Therefore the combination is key for providing broadband everywhere, achieving full coverage everywhere, and not disconnected islands of hot spots," said Ms Pule.
She said Icasa should facilitate the licensing of spectrum in 800MHz based on a wholesale open-access network, due to the limited bandwidth in this band. It should also facilitate the licensing of spectrum in the 2,6GHz band to multiple operators due to the amount of bandwidth available in this band.
"In this regard, the authority should ensure that a portion of this frequency band is set aside for new licensees," she said.
Icasa had initially planned to issue licences for the 2,6GHz and 3,5GHz bands, but yesterday suspended the 3,5GHz band until the international process to reconfigure it was completed.
It then replaced it with the 800MHz. Icasa plans to impose rollout obligations on companies that are allocated the spectrum.
Icasa’s Dumisa Ngwenya said companies that had licences for both bands would have to achieve 70% geographic coverage in five years, of which 50% must exclude Gauteng metros, Cape Town and Durban. Companies with only 2,6GHz will have to achieve 50% population coverage in four years.
Companies also need a minimum 30% ownership by historically disadvantaged individuals to qualify.
Icasa councillor Marcia Socikwa warned companies not to use special purpose vehicles to secure licences.
The process to issue spectrum licences started five years ago and Icasa said the delays had hurt competition and the economic benefits attached to it. However, "a closer encounter with international and national developments on radio frequency spectrum suggests that perhaps the delays were fortuitous," Dr Socikwa said.
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