According to TechCentral, South African WiMAX provider Screamer Telecoms has had its offices raided and seen equipment confiscated by state telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). Citing an anonymous source, who is believed to have participated in the raid, TechCentral reports that the regulator and the South African police force united to raid Screamer’s head office in Centurion on Friday, going on to seize company equipment in Pretoria and Germiston (East Rand). As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in October 2010 state-owned broadband provider Sentech accused Screamer Telecoms of unlawfully using its spectrum to provide illegal wireless broadband services. Sentech duly requested that ICASA establish exactly which frequencies Screamer was using, as it believed that the WiMAX operator was using two 5MHz channels in the 2.6GHz without permission. Although Screamer possesses licensed spectrum in the 7GHz and 38GHz bands, with additional access to 28GHz spectrum ‘on an ad hoc basis’, all of its spectrum is generally utilised for backhaul links, not to provide commercial WiMAX services.
However, Screamer Telecoms CEO Gavin Hart has denied that any such raid took place, declaring that the company is still operating as usual. Hart admitted that ICASA did meet with Screamer Telecoms at its offices on Friday, and that equipment from one site was removed for regulatory approval, but he insisted that Screamer was able to supply the watchdog with the necessary documentation for its Alvarion BreezeMAX equipment. However, Hart conceded that ICASA representatives did probe him about the ongoing legal battle with Sentech, and left the company’s office with copies of the spectrum usage agreement between Screamer and Sentech, as well as correspondence related to the litigation between the two companies and other documentation.
The deal between Screamer and Sentech has long been a source of controversy in the South African telecommunications industry; a team appointed by communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda discovered that a prior agreement between the two parties was in breach of the Public Finance Management Act which bars state-owned enterprises like Sentech from entering into these types of public-private partnerships. The partnership came under increased scrutiny once Sentech closed down its WiMAX network – branded ‘MyWireless’ – in November 2009, due to operating difficulties. A number of commercial operators have subsequently expressed an interest in taking control of Sentech’s dormant spectrum.