Vodacom has stated that it will not be able to step up its 4G deployment in South Africa until the country’s authorities release more bandwidth.
The operator’s CTO Andries Delport said that while Vodacom was currently able to provide 4G coverage to 44% of the country’s population, doing so had exhausted its allocated spectrum. In addition, Head of Innovation Jannie van Zyl noted that the LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) service that Vodacom provides in urban areas was being limited by the lack of available airwaves.
Complaints about delayed spectrum allocation are nothing new among South Africa’s operators, with Delport noting that it had taken far longer than expected to clear the sub-900MHz airwaves that are still in use for analogue broadcasting – despite the fact that analogue TV signals were originally scheduled to be switched off in January 2011.
The deadline was missed several times before the digital switch finally began in February 2016. The process typically lasts a minimum of two years, yet there has been no official statement suggesting when the airwaves might finally be free. Vodacom noted that having access to these airwaves would enable it to boost its rural 4G coverage dramatically.
South African regulator ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) has delayed 4G spectrum auctions several times, much to the chagrin of both the country’s government and operators. Initially scheduled for January 2017, a dispute over communications ownership resulted in a delay to the auctions, with no new date forthcoming.
ICASA’s continued delays in making 4G capacity available prompted the government to announce a shared network initiative in May as a means of boosting broadband availability. The deal would create an open access network through which operators could deliver services via wholesale agreements.