The regulator said it will award 5G spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 2,600 MHz, and 3,500 MHz bands
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) confirmed that its much-anticipated auction of 5G spectrum is expected to start on March 8.
This auction process follows the recent announcement of six qualified bidders for the auction. The regulator said that the 5G spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 2,600 MHz, and 3,500 MHz bands is made available through this licensing process with the aim of providing national broadband wireless access services to all South Africans.
ICASA also said it had conducted mock auctions with bidders during March 1 through 3, to ensure that bidders are comfortable with the bidding process.
ICASA noted that it will kick-off this official process with the Opt-In Auction on March 8, 2022. The Opt-in Auction consists of a single bidding round where eligible bidders may submit bids to achieve a minimum spectrum portfolio (MSPs).
The regulator noted that only Tier-2 operators are eligible to participate in the Opt-in auction and to bid for packages that, if the bidder is successful, will ensure that when combined with its existing IMT Spectrum holdings, the bidder has access to a minimum spectrum portfolio of 2×10 MHz in sub-1 GHz and 60 MHz above 1 GHz. Only 2 bidders can win spectrum to achieve the MSP in the Opt-in auction.
ICASA said that the 4 eligible bidders for the Opt-in auction are Cell C, Liquid Telecoms, Rain Networks and Telkom.
ICASA also highlighted that the main auction will start on March 10 and will be conducted using an online auction platform. All six qualified bidders will be eligible to bid for spectrum in this stage.
Following the conclusion of the main stage, ICASA will conduct an in-person assignment phase with all qualified bidders. This is an administrative process to determine the frequency assignment position of the lots won in the Opt-in Auction and the main stage.
“We continue to take the necessary care in this spectrum auction process to ensure that there are no irreversible anti-competitive effects for the industry and the market. We therefore urge all bidders to work collaboratively with us for the benefit of all South Africans so that the assignment of the high demand spectrum can make a meaningful contribution to the country – with economic spin-offs, and benefits to the citizens and the overall business environment,” said ICASA’s head Keabetswe Modimoeng.
In May 2020, Vodacom had launched what it claimed to be Africa’s first live 5G mobile network. The initial 5G service was available in the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.
Vodacom had been assigned temporary spectrum by ICASA for the duration of the national state of disaster due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including one 50 megahertz channel in the 3.5 GHz band, which has been used to fast-track the carrier’s 5G launch.
Vodacom is currently using equipment by Nordic vendor Nokia for the deployment of its 5G network. Nokia said that its AirScale radio network product portfolio will enable Vodacom to deploy 5G services across several spectrum bands, including the new 3500 MHz, 2600 MHz and 700/800 MHz bands to be auctioned in 2021.
In July 2020, rival operator MTN announced the launch of its 5G network in the country, with the initial deployment of 100 5G sites. The network initially covered areas of Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.
MTN said that it is using Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) for these initial 5G deployments.