South Africa’s spectrum auction faces further delay as Telkom heads to court

Network operator Telkom has approached the country’s High Court seeking an urgent order to prevent telecoms regulator ICASA from holding a spectrum auction in March.

On Wednesday (5 January), Telkom said it had filed an application asking the Gauteng High Court to review and set aside the invitation to apply, which outlines the auction rules, spectrum bands and licence obligations, published by ICASA in December.

In court papers seen by Reuters, Telkom called the contemplated auction process unlawful, illegal, irrational and unreasonable given that the invite is “tainted by a number of reviewable errors”.

These errors include the auctioning of the sub 1 Gigahertz (GHz) frequency band when it is not yet available and is the subject of a legal challenge brought by e-tv, similar to objections raised by the company last year.

Telkom said the outcome of the legal proceedings, set for hearing from 14 March, will have a material impact on the availability of spectrum in this band.

The operator is also fighting the lack of clarity around the timing in licensing a Wholesale Open Access Network, which refers to a single large network available to all mobile operators so that they do not need to build their own infrastructure.

One of Telkom’s primary concerns is that e-tv has refused to migrate away from old analogue terrestrial TV technology by March 2022, MyBroadBand reported.

E-tv is sitting on spectrum that Telkom desperately wants. This is because MTN, Vodacom, and Cell C all have an assignment of frequencies below 1 gigahertz (GHz), while Telkom does not.

Sub-1GHz spectrum lets cellular towers cover a wider area and offers better indoor penetration. In dense urban areas, sub-1GHz must be combined with higher frequency spectrum to build network capacity.

However, without access to sub-1GHz, Telkom says it is at a disadvantage compared to its competitors, especially when trying to provide rural coverage.

Read: The biggest mobile network complaints in South Africa

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South Africa’s spectrum auction faces further delay as Telkom heads to court