The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has proposed a framework for the licensing of mobile broadband spectrum in the 2.6GHz and 800MHz spectrum bands, under which it plans to receive proposals from applicants in March 2012, and aims to avoid a traditional auction process. Instead, the regulator will launch a comparative process, or ‘beauty contest’ procedure taking into account factors including: business plan, technical plan, market innovation and network rollout. A monetary sealed bid stage will be a ‘last resort’ if more than one applicant is successful for each licence package under consideration, the watchdog added at a briefing for interested parties held on 13 December. The closing date for the spectrum plan is 31 January 2012, and ICASA will hold public hearings on 8-10 February 2012; final publication of the spectrum plan is set for 20 February 2012. Closing date for applications is on 23 March 2012 and the authority aims to finalise the licensing process on 30 April 2012. The 2.6GHz band is already available for allocation, while the 800MHz ‘digital dividend’ band (790MHz-862MHz), suitable for rural network rollouts, will become available through the country’s move from analogue to digital broadcasting, scheduled to begin in April 2012.
As reported by Independent Online, Dumisa Ngwenya, general manager for technology at ICASA, said that licence winners in both the 2.6GHz and 800MHz bands would have to provide a wholesale open access network. These licensees would also have to complete 70% geographic coverage in five years, of which 50% must exclude metropolitan cities in Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban. 2.6GHz-only licensees must have 50% population coverage in four years. Qualifying requirements include that companies must be electronic communication network services (ECNS) licence holders in South Africa with a minimum of 30% ownership by historically disadvantaged individuals (HDI); the report points out that Vodacom South Africa does not meet the latter requirement.