South Africa is getting more spectrum and cheaper data prices – but no one can tell us when

The Department of Telecommunications has once again delayed its ‘policy direction’ on licensing unassigned high-demand radio frequency spectrum.

In her departmental budget speech on 11 July, Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams promised that an announcement on the spectrum would be made within the ‘next seven working days’.

However, late on Friday afternoon (19 July), the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) said that the policy direction was still not ready for publication.

“The Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies advises that the Policy Direction on Unassigned High Demand Spectrum has been finalised and is going through the requisite processes prior to publication,” it said.

“Further communication in this regard will be made in due course.”

No further information was provided as to what these ‘requisite processes’ are, when further announcements would be made, or why Icasa was publishing this statement on behalf of the minister.

Speaking to BusinessTech, department spokesperson Nthabeleng Mokitimi-Dlamini said that she could not provide a timeframe on when the policy decision would be released, but said that an update would be provided in due course.

Data must fall

Spectrum is a tremendously valuable asset to South African mobile operators – partly due to the government’s inability to allocate spectrum.

Speaking to MyBroadband, Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said the biggest obstacle impeding the reduction of data prices is the fact that no new spectrum has been allocated in South Africa in the last 14 years.

“Lengthy delays in completing the digital migration and allocating 4G spectrum have curbed the pace at which data prices could have fallen,” Joosub said.

MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa said the spectrum crunch that has beset South Africa for a decade has undoubtedly hindered the health and growth of the industry.

Spectrum is such a scarce resource that Vodacom had to partner with Rain and MTN with Liquid Telecom to get access to more spectrum through roaming agreements.

Read: South Africa’s best mobile network: Vodacom vs MTN vs Cell C vs Telkom vs Rain

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South Africa is getting more spectrum and cheaper data prices – but no one can tell us when