Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said on Wednesday that communications regulator Icasa will make additional radio frequency spectrum available to operators to ensure networks can cope with increased demand during the lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“One envisages a situation where there will be too much traffic on the network,” the minister said at an inter-ministerial press conference in Pretoria on Wednesday, as South Africans are forced to work from home and turn to electronic services during the three-week lockdown, which begins on Friday.
TechCentral understands the details of the plan will be published in a Government Gazette within the next 24 hours.Icasa is considering, among other things, ensuring we provide spectrum relief for those who must provide the services
“As government and the department (of communications & digital technologies), we deemed it important that we help provide capability to those that are providing the networks. In this context, Icasa is considering, among other things, ensuring we provide spectrum relief for those who must provide the services.”
Ndabeni-Abrahams emphasised that the allocation of additional spectrum must be done “in accordance with the law”. She did not provide a timeframe for when the spectrum will become available to network operators.
She said government envisages the spectrum being handed back to Icasa “by the time we get out of this dilemma … failing which the regulator must determine what must happen with the temporary spectrum”.
Mobile networks are constrained by government’s failure to license additional spectrum to operators in the past 15 years. South Africa has never awarded spectrum specifically suited for 4G/LTE networks, forcing operators to repurpose their 2G and 3G spectrum assignments for building mobile broadband infrastructure.
Icasa had been expected to license 4G-suitable and some 5G-suitable spectrum this year, but the Covid-19 pandemic could affect the planned timeline.
Ndabeni-Abrahams also announced that “type approvals” for new communications equipment will be fast-tracked to ensure operators can urgently procure the equipment they need to expand their networks.
“We can’t take 90 days to approve the equipment,” the minister said. “It’s important the authority follows all the processes in a short time, without fail.”
She said mobile number portability – allowing consumers to switch networks without losing their phone number — is also being suspended temporarily.