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.


MTN & Vodacom join Telkom in court battle for spectrum

Article Image
South Africa mobile operators MTN and Vodacom have joined fellow operator Telkom SA in a court battle to keep temporary spectrum.

MTN confirmed with Connecting Africa that it had filed papers in the Pretoria High Court on October 15, opposing the decision by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) that requires the return of the temporary spectrum next month.

Earlier this month Telkom filed an affidavit in the same high court requesting that ICASA be interdicted from forcing operators to return the temporary spectrum – originally allocated to the industry in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"MTN also launched papers in support of Telkom's application against the regulator, relating to the return of the temporary spectrum and the temporary spectrum pooling concessions that were granted by ICASA, to the mobile operators," MTN confirmed via email but said it was open to an out-of-court resolution on the matter.

A Vodacom spokesperson also confirmed that it has joined the legal proceedings and will be "supporting the relief sought by Telkom."

"It is our contention that ICASA cannot withdraw the temporary licenses without due consideration to the likely impact that this will have on the ability of the licensees to continue to support the country's efforts to manage the pandemic," Vodacom's spokesperson said.

Temporary measures

The temporary spectrum was allocated in April 2020 to help operators meet the spike in broadband services demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its end-date has been extended a number of times but last month ICASA said operators need to start winding down their use and return the spectrum to the regulator by no later than November 30, 2021.

"MTN had hoped to resolve this matter outside of the courts but with the November deadline looming, we believe it is imperative we act to protect the millions of South Africans that have become so dependent on fast and stable data services. If an opportunity still exists to resolve the matter out of court, MTN remains open and constructive to that option," it said.

"It is estimated that circa 10 million South Africans have benefitted from the use of temporary spectrum given the significant change in customer behavior patterns since the onset of the global pandemic," Vodacom added.

MTN said that since the start of the pandemic, the demand for data on MTN's network alone has increased by 165% and that demand is not abating, despite the decreased COVID-19 infection numbers.

"The temporary frequencies assigned to operators and paid for has been critical in meeting the data traffic surge, and without these frequencies the networks will not have been able to provide reliable and resilient network quality, under current COVID-19 protocols where many people continue to work from home.

"The withdrawal of the temporary spectrum will also pose a significant risk to lower income South Africans, students and learners who are benefiting from free access," MTN said.

Need persists

Telkom's founding affidavit, seen by Connecting Africa, said that "the rationale and need for temporary spectrum persist" and the operator was looking to prevent the disruption in the provision of services that will happen if the spectrum is taken back.

South Africa's operators have used the temporary spectrum to improve 4G services and to launch 5G services.

Last Wednesday, ICASA confirmed it planned to oppose the Telkom litigation.

"ICASA believes that the circumstances and considerations that informed the issuing of the radio frequency spectrum at the onset of the pandemic never contemplated that the spectrum would be licensed on a long-term or semi-permanent basis. The Authority will therefore be derelict in its duty if it were, by default, to perpetuate what is now becoming an anti-competitive, unfair, and unjust spectrum licensing regime, under the guise of pandemic relief," ICASA said.

After a number of bumps in the road ICASA is now planning on licensing permanent 4G and 5G spectrum by March 2022.

Related posts:

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub


Hot startup of the month: Data science marketplace Zindi

This month's hot startup is social enterprise Zindi, which is a professional network for data science in Africa.


Côte d'Ivoire e-health platform Orange Santé launched

Pan-African operator Orange has partnered with Moroccan start-up DabaDoc to create an e-health platform to help Ivorians book doctor’s appointments online.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: May 2022

By Omdia Analysts

SpaceX-owned Starlink's plans to launch a satellite broadband service in Africa was a major highlight in May 2022, says Omdia's analysts.


Omdia View: April 2022

By Omdia Analysts

This month's Omdia View highlights indicate a shift to digital transformation and operational consolidation to maximize return on investments.

More Guest Perspectives

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Flash poll

All polls

Archived webinars

Africa Green ICT: Lighting Up a Sustainable Continent

The ICT industry is the leading industry in the commitment to carbon neutrality, whose focus has shifted from setting ambitious targets to taking initiatives. The push for zero-carbon and for green energy development, it isn't just about CSR – it's also good for sustainable business.

The path to sustainable development requires green energy. Governments are looking at potential policy approaches to make green energy more widely available and affordable. Without sustainable energy, there will be no digital transformation and no chance of making Africa more economically competitive in the post-pandemic era.

Africa Green ICT Webinar 2022 will bring together ICT industry leaders and senior industrial analysts to provide insight, best practices and key learnings on how to achieve zero-carbon targets and practice green development in Africa.

More Webinars

Sponsored video

More videos

AfricaCom perspectives


Digital inclusion as a catalyst for economic empowerment: Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu

Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu talks to Connecting Africa about how digital payment solutions and mobile money are transforming the lives of small business owners, women and marginalized groups in East Africa.


Accelerating women in STEM: In conversation with GirlCode's Tinyiko Simbine

GirlCode co-founder and CFO Tinyiko Simbine talks about why it's important to help girls and young women excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.


How Poa Internet is unlocking meaningful connectivity in East Africa

Poa Internet's CEO Andy Halsall shares his views on what it takes to develop last-mile connectivity and get Africans online in a meaningful way.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up