South Africa round-up: ICASA to report to two ministries; FNB said to be rolling out fibre for telco network; MTN reveals causes of recent disruptions

5 Dec 2014

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has published a new proclamation in the country’s Official Gazette, which sets out the responsibilities of the newly established Department of Communications (DOC) and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), TechCentral reports. Following the July 2014 split of the ‘Old’ Department of Communications (DoC) into the two separate entities, the DOC was given oversight over telecoms watchdog the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). However, under the new proclamation, ICASA will now report to both departments. The document transfers the administration of and powers and functions set out in the ICASA Act of 2000 and the Broadcasting Act (1999) to the DOC, while the DTPS will take control of the Electronic Communications Act of 2005, which is the overarching convergence legislation for the information and communications technology sector, and the Postal Services Act of 1998. Further, some aspects of the Electronic Communications Act – relating to broadcasting – will fall within DOC’s jurisdiction, thus placing Communications Minister Faith Muthambi in charge of the countries belated analogue switch-off process.

Meanwhile, South African banking group First National Bank (FNB) is reportedly in the process of expanding its fibre network to double as a backhaul for telecoms services, Business Tech reports, citing industry sources familiar with the matter. Rumours have been swirling since 2013 that FNB has its sights set on becoming a player in the South African telco space in some capacity, and it already possesses the necessary licences to operate as a telecoms provider. In June 2013 two independent sources told BusinessTech that FNB and Cell C were in discussions over a potential mobile virtual network (MVNO) agreement. FNB allegedly declined to comment on its fibre infrastructure, with FNB CIO’s Mohammed Hassem saying instead: ‘FNB will continue to enhance its services where it benefits our customers and [we] will only be in a position to formally announce new services once launched.’

Finally, MTN South Africa has revealed that the recent service disruptions experienced by some subscribers were caused by network upgrades and electricity utility Eskom’s load shedding, MyBroadband reports. MTN noted that it recently needed to re-engineer its network in certain parts of the country to ensure that it was of an acceptable standard and was capable of satisfying the needs of customers. Eben Albertyn, chief technology officer at MTN SA, said: ‘The adjustments were many and they included reviewing how we can optimally utilise the existing spectrum, which entailed re-configuring the current allocation of our spectrum.’ Further, MTN added that Eskom’s load shedding exacerbated the disruptions; the operator disclosed that although it has batteries and generators at base stations in the event of power failures, these measures offered a limited backup time. The executive revealed: ‘We are working tirelessly to ensure there is minimal impact on services and are planning for a speedy completion. We are aware that the demand will spike over the festive season and we remain confident that these interventions will bolster our capacity to meet expected traffic … MTN apologises to its customers for any inconvenience caused during this time.’