Spectrum licensing may be slower than hoped - Webber Wentzel
ENGINEERING NEWS / 18 FEBRUARY 2021 - 15.44 / SCHALK BURGER CREAMER MEDIA SENIOR CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
The release of radio frequency spectrum for various telecommunications, industrial and commercial uses may take longer than hoped for, given the challenges to ensure equitable access and to enable digital transformation and growth in the economy, says law firm Webber Wentzel senior associate Karl Blom.
A few key challenges are likely to contribute to further delays in the issuing of spectrum licences. For example, industry called for the classification of service providers to be clarified, as some service providers were simultaneously tier one and tier two, and tier one users would be excluded from applying for spectrum licences during the first rounds and would only be able to apply for the remaining spectrum lots in subsequent rounds. This may prevent them from accessing the necessary spectrum to deploy new services
While the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) last year issued an invitation to apply for spectrum, it is expected that there will be legal challenges on various aspects of spectrum licensing that will delay the process and further delay the broader introduction and use of next-generation devices and services that require large data transmission spectrum, says Blom.
Added to this is the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) that government wants to establish that will not sell directly to the public, but instead ensure that some of the valuable spectrum is provided to historically disadvantaged people or consortia to create new licensees and companies.
The aim is to use this WOAN as an empowerment vehicle to transform the telecommunications industry in addition to broad-based black economic empowerment regulations, but telecommunications service providers want more clarity on how the spectrum they currently use for their operations will be affected, arguing that, similar to television spectrum bands not being reused until television service providers and consumers have been migrated to a new format, they must also be consulted before spectrum that they hold licences for and use for their operation can be included in the WOAN, Blom points out.
"The release of spectrum is expected to be delayed because it is difficult to proceed with the support of some but not all of the stakeholders, and this delay in releasing spectrum will contribute to continued higher infrastructure and customer costs, as well as limiting the ability of the market to move to new uses, devices and services."
More radio frequency enables more communications, and is a key resource for any business that makes use of radio transmitters. It is a limited and finite resource. Certain bands of spectrum are more suited to specific uses than other bands, and many of the new technologies, such as 5G, need high transmission-rate spectrum bands. New uses, such as for drone and Internet of Things technologies, will also seek to leverage spectrum, he says.
The United Nations specialised agency the International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) is an international association that provides guidance on what internationally agreed radio frequency spectrum bands are most suited for which uses, and equipment is then produced according to these internationally agreed guidelines.
The need to enable digital transformation through higher transmission rate telecommunications, and the benefits that higher transmission rate of data can provide across sectors of the economy, must be counterbalanced against the need to ensure that there are no segments of the population that do not benefit from new uses of radio frequency.
"As a consequence of the importance of the resource, there is lots of litigation and politics, which makes it a difficult problem to navigate," says Blom.
Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER