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PR: SA’s Radio Spectrum

Posted on Jun 05 in O-TELby Press OfficerPrint

Call goes out for full audit of how SA’s radio spectrum is used

Independent service provider, O-Tel, has called on telecom regulator ICASA to embark on a comprehensive audit of how the country’s licensed owners of frequency spectrum are currently using this precious resource.

Efficient use of limited wireless spectrum is the key to unlocking more competition in South Africa’s telecom market since fixed-line penetration remains dismally low across the country, said Mohammad Patel: CEO of O-Tel.

With many new i-ECNS licence holders jostling for access to radio spectrum it is essential that ICASA takes stock of how this limited resource is presently being used.

“With so many service providers - 300 to 400 - now potentially chasing after spectrum in the 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz range, ICASA needs up-to-date information about how the frequency is used to base its allocations on,” he added.

“Given that there is a supposed scarcity of spectrum, we need to be looking at how effectively and efficiently this spectrum is actually being used at the moment.”

“With so many service providers (100 to 150) now potentially chasing after licensed spectrum in, amongst others, the 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz ranges, ICASA needs up-to-date information about how the frequency is used to base its assignments on,” he added.

Patel pointed to a bill introduced to US Congress that would require the Federal Communications Commission to take a full inventory of the nation’s spectrum resources between the 300 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands as possible inspiration for ICASA and the Department of Communications.

While information about how the spectrum is divided up is publicly available, it is less easy to determine who is using which pieces of spectrum, what they’re using it for and how efficiently they are using. If adopted, the US legislation will make this information freely available.

“By some accounts, 80% of the frequency needed by the country’s i-ECNS licensees has been permanently assigned,” he added. “The industry and the public deserve to know what these licence holders are doing with this spectrum. Some of it might be underused or not used at all, and could be put to better use.”

ICASA has stated in the past that it will take a “use it or lose it”

approach to regulating radio spectrum and has threatened to recall unused radio spectrum from operators. It will need a comprehensive inventory of radio spectrum usage to give teeth to its threat, said Patel.

“One complaint that many service providers in the telecom space have is that the assignment of frequency isn’t transparent in South Africa. A spectrum audit - made publically available - is an ideal first step towards resolving this complaint,” Patel said.

Concluded Patel: “Wireless spectrum is an important enabler of competition in the telecom industry, so we need to ensure that it is being used to its full potential. An audit of the country’s wireless spectrum will help us to identify underused spectrum and ensure that it is made available to companies that are able to use it to bring better and cheaper services to the country’s businesses and consumers.”

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