South Africa's new policy to prevent spectrum hoarding

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June 4, 2024
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2 min read

The news: 

  • Mondli Gungubele, South Africa’s Minister of Communications, reportedly published the nation's Next-Generation Radio Frequency Spectrum Policy for Economic Development in the Government Gazette on Tuesday.
  • Consequently, per the new use-it-or-lose-it policy, companies such as mobile network providers and broadcasters will be prevented from hoarding critical radio frequency spectrum they're not using. 
  • The policy also outlines how the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the country’s telecoms regulator, must henceforth assign and regulate high-demand spectrum

Many industries rely heavily on spectrum — the raw wireless capacity that operators use to communicate with their devices and networks — including mobile networks, television and radio broadcasters, and vehicle tracking companies.

As part of ICASA's regulatory responsibility, the regulator will prevent licensed entities from hoarding spectrum that could be used for other purposes.

When ICASA issues a licence to a company to operate in South Africa, the business also receives the freedom to use the technology it'll use to provide a particular service. 

It's noted under the “liberalisation of spectrum use” section of the policy, which directs that spectrum be assigned on a “technology neutral basis.”

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Furthermore, to ensure that all allocated spectrum is used as efficiently as possible, ICASA tracks how much of it is used. 

According to the new policy, any spectrum that remains unused for two years will be subject to the use-it-or-lose-it mandate.

This is not the country's authorities’ first attempt at curbing spectrum hoarding. For more than twelve years, it has been regulated majorly using financial incentives, making it too expensive for licensed operators to keep more capacity than they need.

This was introduced by ICASA under Icasa under the “Administrative Incentive Pricing scheme” on April 1, 2012.

Sentech, a state-owned signal distributor, and Telkom soon became obligated to pay the new fees, indicating the success of the new pricing strategy. 

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In 2013, Telkom, a state-owned telco, revealed that Icasa's new fees would have significantly increased its spectrum fees from just under R37.5 million to more than R922 million. Consequently, it began migrating its legacy services to next-generation technologies.

Sentech announced in the same year that it would return its highly sought-after 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz spectrum to ICASA due to a tenfold cost increase.


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