Despite recent news that at least three South African operators have recently launched 5G services, much of the spectrum used is temporary and much remains to be awarded. However, that may be about to change.
The telecommunications regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), now seems to be ready to make 5G spectrum available at auction.
According to Reuters and local press reports, ICASA said on Thursday that it is preparing to issue what is called an ‘invitation to apply’ (ITA) for high demand spectrum and the so-called wireless open access network (WOAN).
The ITA, due in June but apparently slightly delayed, is for licences in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.3GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands.
Mobile operators MTN and Vodacom have already started rolling out 5G networks in major South African cities using temporary spectrum assigned by the regulator during the coronavirus pandemic and consequent lockdown to meet increased demand. The spectrum is, however, only valid until November.
Mobile data-only operator Rain also took advantage of the spectrum bonus, although it had already deployed a 5G wireless data network in certain parts of Johannesburg and Tshwane late last year, apparently by leveraging its 4G data networking infrastructure.
ICASA has committed to holding an auction to issue permanent high-demand spectrum licences by December. However, it did not give an exact date for when it will publish the ITA.
MTN South Africa reiterated its call for the auction of 5G spectrum as it launched its next-generation network earlier this week using temporary spectrum. MTN, Rain and Vodacom are no doubt eager for the regulator to auction the spectrum, which, it is argued, could help to bring down data prices and expand broadband services.