The licensing of high-demand spectrum will be finalised via auction before the end of 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday.

The high cost to communicate in SA has largely been blamed on a lack of competition and the “spectrum crunch”. Spectrum refers to the radio signals set aside to carry data, including for mobile phones, TV and global positioning systems (GPSs).

This is a limited resource largely controlled by the government. The release of additional spectrum will be important in terms of diversifying and boosting competition in the telecommunications sector, and reducing the cost of data.

Ramaphosa said in his state of the nation address the digital economy will become a driver of growth and a creator of employment.

“The Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution has made far-reaching recommendations that impact on nearly every aspect of the economy and in many areas of our lives,” Ramaphosa said.

“The commission’s report provides us with the tools to ensure that we extract the greatest benefit of these revolutionary technological changes. An important condition for the success of our digital economy is the availability of high-demand spectrum to expand broadband access and reliability.”

Ramaphosa said  the regulator, ICASA, has undertaken to conclude the licensing of high-demand spectrum for industry via auction before the end of 2020.

“Because of additional requirements, the licensing of the wireless open access network — or WOAN — is likely to be completed during the course of next year [2021].”

Mobile companies including Vodacom and MTN have previously voiced concern about the proposal to reserve most of the high demand for WOAN and the suggestions that the government would take away spectrum already assigned to operators.  


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