Siyabonga Cwele. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Siyabonga Cwele. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The release of more spectrum to ICT-industry players would be key in driving down the cost of communicating and reducing barriers to entry, telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele said on Thursday.

He spoke after the cabinet announced it had approved the tabling in parliament of the amended Electronic Communications Amendment Bill. Among other measures, the bill seeks to introduce a wireless open-access network as envisaged in the integrated ICT policy white paper, and to improve competition regulation and infrastructure sharing in the sector.

The cabinet also approved a study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to determine spectrum requirements for the wireless open access network. Under this network system, spectrum would be pooled and given to a new national wholesale open-access network operator owned by the government and the industry.

Mobile giants including Vodacom and MTN, had previously voiced concern about the proposal to reserve most of the high-demand spectrum for the wireless open-access network and the suggestions that the government would take away spectrum already assigned to the operators.

But in a move likely to bring some relief for big mobile players, the CSIR study confirmed that a portion of the radio frequency spectrum could be allocated to the wireless open-access network, with excess capacity going to private industry players.

Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said the group welcomed the principle of co-existence between mobile players and the proposed wholesale open access network. “That said, we look forward to seeing both the CSIR report and the amended Electronic Communications Amendment Bill before commenting further,” he said.

The government commissioned the CSIR study in 2017 to determine whether the proposed wireless open access network would make use of all high-demand spectrum for its 4G network, or if there would be additional spectrum left over for private companies.