The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has announced that six companies – Cell C, Rain Networks, Vodacom, Telkom, Liquid Telecom and MTN – have applied to participate in its upcoming multi-band spectrum auction. The regulator said it aims to conduct the tender for high demand spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2600MHz and 3500MHz bands no later than 31 March 2021, with ICASA Chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng stating: ‘The Authority remains committed to defend this important process against any form of litigation, with a full appreciation of what the benefits of licensing high demand spectrum will be for consumers and the public at large. We are unwavering in this regard.’
In late December, Telkom filed an application with the High Court in Pretoria seeking an interdict to halt ICASA’s spectrum licensing process, claiming that ICASA’s Invitations To Apply (ITAs) for spectrum and the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) have fundamental flaws that could entrench the ‘dominance’ of market leaders Vodacom and MTN. Telkom claims that the regulator issued the ITAs despite the fact that the digital dividend bands (700MHz and 800MHz) are still used by analogue TV broadcasters, with Telkom group executive for regulatory affairs and government relations Siyabonga Mahlangu saying: ‘So, we will buy the spectrum, but we will not be able to get a return from it … We can’t commercially exploit that spectrum [until broadcasting digital migration has been completed].’ The executive added: ‘It’s unfair, for a company of our size, to commit that kind of capital, which we could use to compete more effectively… At this stage, no one knows when that spectrum will be available (for use).’ For its part, ICASA said that it plans to challenge Telkom’s application in court.