Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ
Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ

SA's telecommunications regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa),  said it has received about 35 applications for the temporary allocation of radio frequency spectrum to aid communications during the national lockdown.

Thursday's announcement came three days after the government published a gazette containing regulations for the allocation. The government instructed Icasa in March to issue new spectrum to telecom operators on a temporary basis in order to expand the network and cater for a surge in demand as companies work remotely during the nationwide lockdown.

Icasa did not disclose the list of applicants, which may include established players MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, Telkom and recent entrants such as data-only player Rain, in which Patrice Motsepe's African Rainbow Capital Investments holds about a fifth. As the additional spectrum is meant to increase capacity for existing networks, it's unlikely that operators who don’t already have cellphone towers in place have applied.

Fibre network operator Vox Telecom is one such player and CEO Jacques du Toit recently confirmed that the company had not applied. In addition to mobile operators, applicants could include technology companies, banks and local government authorities with their own communications systems in place. 

Spectrum refers to the radio frequencies on which data and information are carried. Mobile operators have long argued that access to spectrum will help reduce the cost of mobile data in SA because it will allow them to cover a wider geographic area with existing towers while carrying more data traffic.

SA’s last big set of spectrum was allocated in 2004 and 2005, enabling Vodacom and MTN to roll out their 3G networks. Cell C followed in 2011.

Spectrum issued under this week's guidelines will be valid until the end of November 2020.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za