Telecommunications company MTN has warned that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (Icasa’s) decision to take back temporary radio frequency spectrum on 30 November could lead to ‘digital load shedding’ in South Africa.
In April 2020, Icasa released emergency spectrum to allow the country’s mobile operators to meet the spike in demand for broadband services due to South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown.
The spectrum was expected to ease network congestion, maintain the quality of broadband services, and enable network operators to lower the cost of access to consumers.
However, in a notice sent to operators this week, the regulator said that the emergency spectrum will be taken back on 30 November 2021.
MTN SA’s executive for corporate affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan, told MyBroadband that the decision is a significant blow given the extra demands placed on its systems.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the amount of data traffic that MTN has needed to carry for its customers has more than doubled,” she said.
“Removing the temporary spectrum, when the pandemic remains a reality for all South Africans and before Icasa completes the spectrum auction, will have a significant impact on data supply to South Africans.”
The impact of the National State of Disaster has not eased since the last extension of the temporary spectrum, O’Sullivan said.
“In fact, since the last extension, South Africa was hit by a record-breaking third wave of infections and was moved to level 4 risk adjustment level which was only dropped to level 3 on 25 July 2021.”
While Icasa has promised to auction more spectrum to mobile operators for over a decade, recent plans have been scuppered by legal battles and further delays.
Telecoms group Telkom has argued that the auction can’t go ahead without some intervention from the court, while TV broadcasters are still occupying some of the frequency bands being auctioned.
MTN’s legal challenge to the spectrum auction is over an exclusive round that will exclude Vodacom and MTN from bidding on certain lots of spectrum.
“We continue to engage with the regulator in good faith, and we remain optimistic that we will find common ground on this most critical issue,” O’Sullivan said.