Communications department publishes spectrum policy

The Department of Communications has published its policy on high-demand spectrum, after multiple delays.

In an explanation of the department’s position, minister of communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that much of the high demand spectrum will be assigned to a Wholesale Open Access Network (WOAN).

This is in line with changes made to the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) in the Government Gazette published at the end of 2018.

Once this spectrum has been assigned to the WOAN, the remaining high demand spectrum may be assigned to other electronic communications network service licensees, Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

The document does not specify how much spectrum will be given to the WOAN and how much will be given to network operators.


According to the document, the WOAN must have the following conditions attached:

  • It must be a consortium of persons, at least 70% owned by South Africans, that participate voluntarily;
  • It must comply with the empowerment requirements contemplated in section 9(2)(b) of the ECA;
  • It must include diversity of ownership to ensure meaningful participation of all entities involved including SMMEs, and °o prevent monopolistic behaviour;
  • It must include effective participation by targeted groups, including women, youth and persons with disabilities; and
  • It may include public entities as shareholders provided that the WOAN may not be a public entity, under the Public Finance Management Act.

Non-WOAN assignment

According to the document, the assignment of high demand spectrum not reserved for assignment to the WOAN must ensure that the following policy objectives are achieved:

  • Leasing of electronic communications networks and electronic communications facilities and provision of wholesale capacity to other licensees, including to the WOAN upon request, as soon as the WOAN is licensed. The Authority must perform strict regulatory oversight to ensure compliance with this network and facilities leasing requirement;
  • Universal access and universal service obligations to ensure high-quality network availability in rural and under-serviced areas;
  • The obligations must be complied with in rural and under -serviced areas before the assigned spectrum may be used it other areas bearing in mind practicalities such as the unsuitability of certain high band spectrum for rural areas;
  • A single entity may not control the spectrum;
  • Compliance with empowerment requirements.

5G spectrum

These conditions are largely in line with the above-mentioned Electronic Communications Amendment Act published last year.

The one notable difference is the consideration of 5G spectrum which Ndabeni-Abrahams said would be covered in a separate policy directive sometime in 2020.

“The authority is directed to investigate and report to the Minister on the spectrum requirements of 5G in bands lower than 6 GHz and the millimetre wave (mmW) bands currently under study at the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC -19),” the department said.

“The report should be provided to the minister within six months after the WRC -19. The investigation should cover the affected bands, the required ecosystem to support 5G in these bands, and the implications of the licensing of these bands on competition and the current structure of the mobile market.

“To this extent, the licensing of the 5G candidate bands will be informed by the outcome of the aforementioned investigation and report from the Authority. The Minister will thereafter, issue a separate policy direction on the 5G candidate bands,” it said.

Why spectrum is important

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.

You can find the full document below:

Policy Spectrum by BusinessTech on Scribd

Read: Government delays decision on spectrum, again

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Communications department publishes spectrum policy