After years of delays, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) will auction spectrum for mobile broadband services this week. However, a pending legal dispute might impede allocating the much-needed network capacity to operators.
Telkom, Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, and Rain are among the six licensed telecommunications operators participating in the auction, which will begin today, Tuesday, March 8.
The spectrum to be licensed is in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.6GHz, and 3.5GHz, suitable for supplying mobile broadband services using 4G/LTE and (in some cases) next-generation 5G technology.
ICASA held a bidder’s seminar last week to familiarise participants with the auction process. In addition, mock auctions with bidders to ensure that they were satisfied with the process were conducted from March 1 to 3.
An opt-in period will precede the auction. This will be a single bidding round where all eligible bidders will compete for a minimum spectrum portfolio or MSP.
Only tier-2 operators (excluding Vodacom and MTN) are eligible to participate in the opt-in auction and bid for packages that, if successful, will give bidders access to MSPs of 2x10MHz below 1GHz and 60MHz above 1GHz when combined with their existing spectrum holdings. This is because frequencies below 1GHz are ideal for covering broad regions and enhancing in-building coverage; frequencies over 1GHz are better suited for providing consumers with higher Internet access speeds.
In the opt-in auction, only two bids can win spectrum to achieve the MSP, according to ICASA.
Bidders must submit their offers in person between 10 a.m. and noon on March 8. If all qualified bidders submit proposals before the scheduled end of the bidding window, the round will be closed early.
ICASA will make a public announcement at the end of the opt-in auction. The winners’ names, the quantity of spectrum they won, and the amount they will have to pay to guarantee their access will all be revealed in this announcement.
The main auction, which will take place on an online auction platform, will begin on March 10. This round will allow all six qualifying bidders to compete for spectrum. Bidding will typically occur between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on business days.