Frustrated MTN boss lashes out at ICASA over LTE spectrum stalemate

8 Mar 2012

MTN South Africa MD Karel Pienaar has publicly voiced his dissatisfaction over telecoms watchdog ICASA’s handling of the long delayed auction for spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz band. TechCentral quotes Pienaar as saying: ‘We need ‘interim relief’ … I am a strong believer in awarding those [companies] that deliver for the people of South Africa’. MTN, which deployed 100 Long Term Evolution (LTE) base stations in the Gauteng province, as part of an extensive July 2011 pilot project using re-farmed 1800MHz spectrum, is believed to be ready to implement its 4G network on a commercial basis – as soon as ICASA awards it suitable frequency. He continued: ‘The existing players that have scale are being starved for spectrum and need more support’. With this in mind, Pienaar says that MTN would like immediate access to at least 20MHz of spectrum (two paired 10MHz blocks) in the 2.6GHz band so that it can initiate commercial LTE services; access to the 800MHz band is less pressing, Pienarr suggested, because the network in rural areas is less congested, making it easier to re-farm existing 900MHz spectrum that has historically been used for voice services.

Pienaar also criticised ICASA’s decision to allow the likes of Neotel, Sentech and Wireless Business Solutions (WBS) to retain prime LTE-suitable spectrum; Neotel is currently in possession of 800MHz spectrum, whilst Sentech holds 50MHz worth of unused frequency in the 2.6GHz band. The MTN MD questioned the logic behind awarding more bandwidth to broadband operators that are unproven in the cellular arena, asking: ‘Why award them with more spectrum? Rather award those that deliver. To think you can get a new player coming in that does not have scale and build a network from scratch is just foolishness’. He concluded by saying that if ICASA presses ahead with its current plan it will lead to ‘regulatory failure’ and will ‘put South Africa back relative to the rest of the world’.

As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, earlier this week ICASA announced that it had postponed the licensing of LTE-suitable spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands after the country’s main players successfully argued that its draft spectrum assignment plan was released prematurely.