South Africa organises first-ever spectrum auction

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, ICASA, organises an auction to award much-needed spectrum for mobile operators. The auction started on 8 March 2022 after a more than 10-year delay.

The South Africa telecoms regulator, ICASA, auctions spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz and 2600 MHz bands. The six qualified bidders are MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, Cell C, Rain Networks and Liquid Telecoms.

The first phase, the so-called opti-in round, started on 8 March 2022 and raised ZAR 2.7bn. Telkom and Rain Networks won spectrum with the winning bids of ZAR 1.5bn and ZAR 1.2bn, respectively.

Telkom, in which the government holds 40%, won 2×10 MHz in the 800 MHz band.

Rain, 20.26% owned by the billionaire Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital Investments, gained 2×10 MHz in the 700 MHz band and a 10 MHz block in the 2600 MHz band.

The main stage commenced on 10 March. The proceeds passed the estimated total of ZAR 8bn before 14 March.

In general, spectrum auctions of this type can take weeks to clear. ICASA would announce the winning bids of each bidder at the end of the auction stage.

This is the first time ICASA is auctioning spectrum. The auction was delayed by a number of disputes and legislative delays. Spectrum as a scarce resource is vital for mobile operators to roll out LTE and 5G networks.

The auction takes place amid the litigation by Telkom against ICASA. Telkom is not happy with the way the auction is designed. The court shall hear the case in April 2022.

Another dispute, running in parallel, is between e-tv and the communications ministry over the deadline for the analogue TV switch-off. The transition to digital TV is necessary so that the frequencies used so far by broadcasters can be available for mobile broadband.

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