The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has announced that the long-delayed auction will take place from the 8th of March

Back in December last year, South Africa’s telecoms regulator ICASA invited telcos to apply for the right to bid in the upcoming mid-band spectrum auction. 

Now, over two months later, the regulator has revealed that all six applications it received were successful, meaning the delayed spectrum will be fought over by MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, Cell C, Rain Networks, and Liquid Telecoms.

The auction process is now set to officially begin from the 8th of March.

"We can officially proclaim the forthcoming March 2022 spectrum auction as an unparalleled milestone in our country’s communications history as this will be the first ever spectrum auction held on our shores," said Keabetswe Modimoeng, chairperson of ICASA, said in a statement.

The mid-band auction will include frequencies in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz bands – bands that the operators have already been using on a temporary basis ever since they were allocated as emergency measures during the early onset of the pandemic. 

Initially, these temporary licences were set to expire in November last year. However, having launched new services with this spectrum, the operators have been reluctant to part with it, successfully petitioning the regulator in October last year to extend the terms of the temporary licences to June 2022.

In spite of the operators’ clear desire for this spectrum, however, the auction remains controversial. It will be the first time the operators have received long-term licences for new spectrum in almost 17 years and ICASA has already attempted to conduct the auction five times previously without success.

While the pandemic has certainly played a role in this delay, the crux of the matter has been numerous arguments between the operators and the regulator. Much of this dispute has been centred around access to the sub-1GHz spectrum being made available, since much of this is currently used by television broadcasters who would still need to migrate to other spectrum, and the spectrum being made available for the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN), a planned operator-neutral wholesale mobile network.

Just last month Telkom filed an appeal to the Gauteng High Court seeking to delay the process even further, asking them to review the auction’s invitation to apply. The company complaining about errors and uncertainties present within the framework, saying that the auction with its current ruleset would be bad for consumers and anticompetitive.

Telkom’s rivals, however, point out that Telkom currently has access to more spectrum than its competitors and so benefits from the auction’s delay.

Now, with the successful applicants for the auction announced, it would seem that Telkom’s complaints have fallen on deaf ears and the auction may finally proceed after many years of delays.

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