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SA to license more spectrum to boost mobile services

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South Africa's telecoms regulator is preparing to license more low- and mid-frequency spectrum to help with increased demand for mobile services in the country, particularly rising data traffic.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) announced it was kicking off the second phase of its licensing process, following a long-awaited spectrum auction in March 2022.

The successful auction was considered historic for South Africa as operators in the country had been waiting almost 15 years for more high-demand spectrum to become available.

Now it seems the regulator does not want to wait too much longer to license even more frequencies saying it is committed to making the necessary spectrum available "in an orderly and timely fashion."

"South Africa experiences continued growth in demand for more spectrum as a result of significant growth in data traffic. The limited availability of spectrum for IMT systems brings constraints and challenges in the provision of broadband services. In order to address South Africa's bandwidth deficiency, the current assigned bandwidth for IMT spectrum needs to be increased," the regulator said as part of an information memorandum published in the Government Gazette.

Phase two

ICASA Councilor, Peter Zimri, said that the next phase is primarily focused on the licensing of the unsold "Lot 9" from the previous auction which contains spectrum in the 800MHz radio frequency band, as well as some mid-band IMT radio frequency channels that are immediately available.

The Authority is a bit late on its promise to publish an information memorandum about the unsold lot. As part of ICASA's April settlement agreement with Telkom SA it said it would publish the information memorandum by the end of June 2022.

It also previously said the full licensing process would be concluded within ICASA's current financial year which ends in March 2023.

"The main aim of licensing the low and mid frequency bands within the designated frequency ranges is to increase nationwide broadband access for all citizens by 2025," ICASA said in a statement.

The March auction raised almost R14.5 billion (US$852 million) for the South Africa government, surpassing ICASA's R8 billion ($470 million) target with Vodacom and MTN bidding over $300 million each.

Want to know more about 4G and 5G in Africa? Check out our dedicated 4G/5G content channel here on Connecting Africa.

The previous auction included 33 lots across four radio frequency bands: 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz and all the lots sold except for one 800MHz lot.

The next phase includes plans to license lots in the frequencies: 450MHz, 750MHz, 800MHz, 1.5GHz, 2.1GHz, 2.3GHz, 3.3GHz and 4.8GHz.

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*Top image source: Mehadi Hasan from Pixabay.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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