Stakeholders in SA have indicated that they would support trials of new spectrum sharing technologies, as regulators move to improve connectivity and reduce the cost to communicate.

Such trials would provide the key stakeholders with insights into the potential of tiered models for spectrum sharing and any related technological and regulatory issues that might arise, according to a new report by global consultancy firm Policy Impact Partners.

The report was done in association with the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, an international body advocating for laws and regulations that will lead to more effective spectrum utilisation.

Cabinet recently approved the policy for licensing high-demand spectrum after extensive consultations with the telecoms sector and the public. The communications regulator, Icasa, said it will outline the approach on the licensing of the spectrum by the end of December. This will provide guidance to stakeholders and prospective applicants on the process and criteria to be applied by the regulator in the licensing of the spectrum.

The high cost of communication in SA has largely been blamed on a lack of competition and “spectrum crunch”. Spectrum refers to the radio signals set aside to carry data, including for cellphones, TV and GPS.

This is a limited resource largely controlled by the government. The release and effective use of additional spectrum is key in terms of diversifying and boosting competition in the telecoms sector and reducing the cost of data.

The report by Policy Impact Partners and the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance highlights that under SA regulations, spectrum sharing can be initiated by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) or by two or more people (licensees). All radio frequency spectrum sharing agreements are subject to approval by Icasa, and to a non-discriminatory approach.

The report, which is based on in-depth engagements with industry and public sector stakeholders, explores how new forms of spectrum sharing could enable many more people to benefit from broadband connectivity and digital services. In particular, it considers the opportunities in Colombia, Malaysia and SA. The authors of the report said that in all three countries, government and industry stakeholders were open to exploring new approaches to spectrum sharing in different frequency bands.

In SA, key industry and policy stakeholders expressed a willingness to participate in, or support, technology trials of spectrum sharing, which could help connect the approximately two-million people in the country who do not yet have coverage from a 3G or 4G network.

According to the report, the optimum way to implement spectrum technology trials would be through partnerships between the relevant industry players, authorised by the spectrum authorities.

The report highlights the US spectrum sharing model. There, the Federal Communications Commission has developed a three-tiered system. It is administered and enforced by a spectrum access system (SAS) that is designed to provide dynamic and secure allocation of spectrum resources in real time.

When the system’s sensors detect a federal transmission (the top tier) using an environmental sensing capability, it activates a protection zone and informs the SAS to dynamically reallocate users in the area to alternative parts of the band.

In this way, the SAS ensures that spectrum is always available for military applications and for other public-sector incumbents at the time and place it is needed. In the second tier, spectrum is allocated to commercial users who buy priority access licences for a specified location and period of time. The remaining spectrum can then be used for general authorised access.