The South African telecommunications regulator has finally decided it will call a halt to emergency spectrum use by the country’s mobile operators – after more than 17 months.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), which has already extended the duration for use of the temporary spectrum twice, has insisted that the availability of emergency spectrum will end on 30 November.
Operators in South Africa have been using the temporary radio frequency spectrum since early last year, when it was assigned during the first Covid-19 outbreak. The emergency allocations were issued under South Africa’s disaster management protocols and were set to expire at the end of March.
As we reported at the time, they were extended until 31 May after the Pretoria High Court blocked ICASA from auctioning spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2600MHz and 3500MHz bands. This is related to a court case brought by operators Telkom and MTN.
Another extension followed – from 1 June 2021 to 31 August 2021. ICASA said in May that it hoped all key stakeholders would use this period to find a resolution to the spectrum litigation impasse.
The ruling that the bandwidth must be returned by the end of November extends the original return date by a year. However, as the regulator said in a statement: “Having allowed operators to use the temporarily assigned spectrum for a period of 17 months, it is reasonable that they be allowed a further three months until 30 November 2021 as a sufficient winding-down period.”
As Reuters points out, the extensions have meant mobile operators can deliver faster connectivity to customers to meet a surge in data demand as large numbers of people continue to work from home.