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


AI's impact on African telcos

Many African telecommunications companies are turning to artificial intelligence as a differentiator to improve their mobile networks and enhance customer service and experience as they transition from traditional telco offerings into new tech-first verticals.


Four AI trends to look out for in 2024

Connecting Africa has compiled a list of four artificial intelligence (AI) trends to look out for on the African continent in 2024.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Upcoming events

AfreGov 2024
March 12-14, 2024
Kigali, Rwanda
Africa Tech Festival 2024
November 11-14, 2024
Cape Town, South Africa
More Upcoming events

Sponsored video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Africa Tech Perspectives


Uber's Marjorie Saint-Lot on inclusion and sustainability in Africa

Uber's Country Manager for Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, Marjorie Saint-Lot, shares how the ride-hailing company is approaching public-private partnerships, environmentally friendly initiatives and gender inclusion in Africa.


The 100 most influential African leaders in 2023

A new report from Africa Tech Festival and Connecting Africa puts a spotlight on the top 100 African leaders in the telecoms and technology sector in 2023.


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.

More Africa Tech perspectives

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: January 2024

By Omdia Analysts

Highlights in January 2024 in the Middle East and Africa included a $200 million fintech deal between MTN and Mastercard as well as 5G network trials by Telecom Egypt – that and more in this month's Omdia View.


Omdia View: September 2023

By Omdia Analysts

Highlights in September 2023 in the Middle East and Africa included more 5G spectrum licenses, vendor and operator strategies, and partnerships – that and more in this month's Omdia View.

More Guest Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up
Tag id test-002