MTN South Africa has blasted rival Telkom’s call for a delay to 2025 to communications regulator Icasa’s next broadband spectrum auction.
Telkom on Tuesday said it had asked Icasa to postpone its next spectrum auction until 2025 because it was worried it wouldn’t be able to afford to participate.
After a 15-year delay caused in large part by ministerial interference, Icasa finally conducted an auction last year for 4G- and 5G-suitable spectrum. The regulator said previously that it aimed to conclude the next auction by no later than 31 March 2024.
“Telkom has requested that Icasa postpone the second auction to the next financial year (2025) on the basis that studies still need to be completed by Icasa in preparation for the next auction,” Telkom said on Tuesday.
It said that the “current challenging economic environment, including the impact of load shedding, will make it particularly difficult for Telkom and other market participants to [participate] in the auction”.
But MTN is having none of Telkom’s argument.
Jacqui O’Sullivan, the company’s chief sustainability and corporate affairs officer, told TechCentral in response to questions that mobile broadband is a “critical piece of economic infrastructure linked by many studies to economic growth, job creation, inclusiveness and empowerment, and spectrum is the lifeblood to deliver these benefits”.
MTN ‘opposes any delay’
“The allocation of spectrum in 2022 has delivered tangible results and offers a blueprint of how to allocate spectrum on a more effective and equitable basis going forward. South Africa must remain at the forefront of technological development to ensure South Africans have fair and equal opportunity to participate in the digital economy, while further contributing to the growth of the economy at large,” O’Sullivan said.
“The company therefore opposes any delay in the next round of spectrum auctioning. To continue delivering the quality service levels that South African customers have come to expect, additional spectrum in the new year will be an imperative, not a ‘nice to have’.
“The industry is rapidly becoming a critical component in social and economic development and growth. With the proliferation of bandwidth-hungry applications and devices servicing the fourth Industrial Revolution, a delay in the issuance of additional spectrum will be in direct opposition to what South Africa, as a developing country, requires,” O’Sullivan said.
“Progress, growth and development cannot be postponed. It is not in the interest of South Africans and their participation in the digital economy.”
Vodacom South Africa said it is also keen that the spectrum be allocated sooner rather than later. In e-mailed response to questions from TechCentral, a spokesman said it supports more spectrum being assigned “to those that have the skills and investment capacity to improve digital services to customers”.
“South Africa’s recent 2022 IMT auction has been an enormous step in the right direction,” the company said.
“Over the last few years, Icasa has been working hard with mobile network operators and other interested and affected stakeholders to prepare the country for the next round of assignment that has the potential to bring the country up to similar levels of assignment as Europe and other leading mobile markets,” Vodacom said.
“While these are indeed challenging times, we believe that it should be possible for Icasa to design a process that considers such circumstances and allows for realistic and fair assignment prices and obligations.”