Vodacom wants spectrum auction postponed

Telecoms

Vodacom would like the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to delay a long-awaited auction of spectrum in the 2,6GHz band. Vodacom regulatory adviser Mortimer Hope says the spectrum in the 2,6GHz band should be auctioned at the same time as the “digital dividend” spectrum in the 800MHz band to make sure that telecommunications providers can provide blanket service to all South Africans. The digital dividend is the spectrum that will be freed up when broadcasters move to digital terrestrial television.

Hope was speaking at a digital dividend workshop being held by Icasa’s offices in Sandton on Thursday. Icasa is expected to auction spectrum in 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz later this year. Hope says 800MHz is being used around the world to provide access to the next generation of wireless broadband technology, known as long-term evolution, or LTE. “The lower frequencies are far better for wider coverage, and already providers are ‘refarming’ the 900MHz spectrum that was traditionally used for voice to provide broadband coverage,” he says.

Hope says that although the coveted 2.6GHz band can be used for LTE, the high frequency range makes it less suitable for wide coverage and more suitable for bolstering city coverage and providing additional capacity.

Icasa is in the process of finalising how it plans to licence the spectrum in the 2,6GHz band and all operators are hoping to get their hands on it. However, the authority’s recently released spectrum regulations could result in most of the larger players being excluded from bidding for the spectrum. The new regulations require that companies have 30% of their equity in the hands of historically disadvantaged (HDI) people.

Vodacom could use the additional time afforded by a postponement in the auction to bolster its HDI requirement and bid for an assignment in both frequencies. The company will need all the capacity it can get its hands on because, according to Hope, it expects a boom in wireless broadband in the next five years. By 2014, Vodacom says almost 70% of all network traffic will be video delivered over the Internet.

With fibre still not widespread in SA, Vodacom is banking on LTE to help curb the cost of the last mile to customers for broadband access.