Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.


SA operators allowed to keep COVID-19 emergency spectrum longer

Article Image
South Africa's mobile operators don't have to give back temporary 4G and 5G spectrum until March next year. This was announced at a press briefing by the chairperson of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), Dr. Keabetswe Modimoeng, who also gave details on the country's planned (but very delayed) spectrum auction.

ICASA said it will officially start receiving applications for the much-awaited spectrum auction tomorrow and plans to auction high-demand spectrum before March 31, 2021.

In April ICASA released the emergency spectrum in five different bands for the duration of South Africa's national state of disaster, including the 5G "golden band" of 3.5GHz. This was supposed to help operators meet the spike in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Modimoeng said the emergency temporary spectrum's validity period will also be extended to no later than March 31, 2021. The temporary spectrum was originally slated to be returned on November 30, 2020.

The extension will be music to the ears of MTN SA's CEO, Godfrey Motsa, who previously expressed his reluctance to give the emergency spectrum back.

In July, when MTN launched 5G across 100 sites in SA it did so using the emergency spectrum. Motsa said at the time that there was "no business case to take the spectrum back."

In May, rival Vodacom also launched 5G in three South African cities using the temporary spectrum assigned by ICASA.

Spectrum scarcity
South Africa's operators are constantly complaining that they need more spectrum and have been waiting for many years for government to issue more high-demand spectrum for 4G rollout.

In 2005, Vodacom and MTN received some 2.1GHz spectrum for their 3G rollout, and Cell C was allocated spectrum in 2011. Since then, operators have had to refarm 3G spectrum to facilitate the rollout of 4G to consumers.

ICASA has now promised that the Invitation To Apply (ITA) for spectrum for both the planned Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) and individual spectrum for operators will be published no later than Friday October 2, 2020.

The ITA was supposed to be issued by the end of June 2020 but at the beginning of July ICASA said this had been delayed once again. The auction was supposed to happen by the end of December 2020, but this has been pushed to March 2021.

In fact, the auction was first announced back in 2016 but had to be put on hold because of a legal spat between what was then the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services and the regulator.

ICASA's chairperson, Dr. Keabetswe Modimoeng
ICASA's chairperson, Dr. Keabetswe Modimoeng

ICASA has now given details on next year's auction and some info on the breakdown of spectrum lots that telcos can bid for. This included reserve prices for different lots of spectrum which range from R9.8 million (US$590,200) to R1.1 billion ($69.4 million).

The bands that will be licensed through the auction include lots of 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz spectrum, however, the 2.3GHz band is being excluded for now.

WOAN what?
The WOAN has been on the cards since 2016 when it was envisaged to shake up South Africa's previous policy framework for spectrum allocation in favor of an "open access regime," with the WOAN to function as a public/private owned and managed consortium.

"The spectrum that has been set aside for the WOAN has been considered thoroughly by the Authority and has been prescribed in such a way that the WOAN will become a credible national wholesale player in the market," Modimoeng said.

To do this ICASA has imposed an obligation on successful spectrum bidders to procure a minimum of 30% national capacity from the WOAN collectively, as soon as it is operational, for a period of seven years.

"The 30% national capacity to be procured from the WOAN will be shared proportionally amongst the successful licensees based on the amount of spectrum acquired from the Auction by each successful licensee."

The closing date for applications for the spectrum auction is December 28, 2020, and for the WOAN is March 30, 2021.

Related posts:

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub


Hot startup of the month: Pan-African fintech KamaPay

This month's hot startup is pan-African fintech KamaPay, which helps individuals and businesses make cross-border payments on the continent.


Afretec awards $3.3M in grants to African research teams

The African Engineering and Technology Network (Afretec) has awarded grants worth $300,000 each to 11 university research teams across Africa to advance digital technologies.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Sponsored video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Flash poll

All polls

Africa Tech Perspectives


Deep dive into East Africa's tech startup ecosystem

New survey reveals a lack of access to investors, reliance on international VCs and global recession trends as the biggest barriers for East African tech startups to access funds.


Challenges and opportunities for women's tech careers

A new survey reveals that COVID-19, the cost-of-living crisis, skills shortages and a lack of mentorship have negatively affected women's career development over the past two years.


Survey: Opportunities for Women in Tech

Take our new survey for women across Asia, Europe and Africa looking at the biggest challenges and opportunities for women-led enterprises and trends in tech careers for women.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Upcoming events

London Tech Week
June 13-16, 2023
Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Broad Sanctuary, London SW1P 3EE
Cybertech Africa 2023
August 1-2, 2023
Kigali Convention Center, Kigali, Rwanda
Africa Tech Festival, Home of AfricaCom and AfricaTech
November 13-16, 2023
CTICC, Cape Town
More Upcoming events

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: February 2023

By Omdia Analysts

In February 2023 key events in the Middle East and Africa included a major Internet project for Africa's underserved by Liquid Intelligent Technologies and Microsoft as well as a 5G launch in Tanzania – that and more in this month's Omdia View.


Omdia View: July 2022

By Omdia Analysts

Kenya and Zambia move towards 5G with new spectrum allocations while Tunisie Telecom plans to shut down its 3G network - that and more in this month's Omdia View.

More Guest Perspectives

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up