Open letter to the Department of Communications

Statement of Chairman of Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA) , Henk Kleynhans

Re: Addressing the issue of spectrum efficiency, spectrum recovery and smarter spectrum policies.

In his State of the Nation Address this year, South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma said: “Deur saam te werk kan ons meer bereik.” And never before has this been so true. As the chairman of WAPA I request closer collaboration with the Department of Communication, its regulators and our members to collectively develop policies that are mutually beneficial to the government and the public which it serves. Collaboration on deciding and planning spectrum efficiency, spectrum recovery and smarter spectrum policies will deliver more than just additional bandwidth; it fosters innovation, develops jobs and positively contributes towards the country’s economy.

ICASA’s vision is to be a catalyst in the transformation of the country into an information oriented society and knowledge based economy and its mission is to create a competitive environment for delivering a wide range of high quality Communication and Postal services at affordable prices. These aims serve to assist in the overall economic growth and social development of the country. One way of assisting the regulator to achieve and deliver on its mission and vision is to appeal to you to urgently address spectrum efficiency, spectrum recovery and smarter spectrum policies.

South Africa needs to play catch up with the rest of the world with respect to opening up spectrum, before it is too late. By addressing spectrum policies now, the country can increase its expertise to levels never before imagined.

We would like to urge the Department of Communications and the regulator, ICASA to free up white space below 900 MHz frequency spectrum. White space is unused spectrum that sits between TV channels. This is considered prime spectrum for offering wireless broadband services because it can travel long distances and penetrate through walls.

In a recent move by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States of America, this white space was released. Indications are that around 90 percent of the licensed spectrum is unused and by allowing use of this high quality spectrum, the FCC has shown that it is trying to make better use of an underused spectrum and at the same time promote innovation and economic development.

It made a similar decision nearly a quarter decade ago which resulted in a wave of new technologies, including baby monitors, cordless phones and most importantly, Wi-Fi which has developed into a multi-billion dollar industry.

Using Wi-Fi technology, WAPA members have connected countless consumers, businesses, schools and hospitals to the internet and to each other and freeing up a unlicensed spectrum can do even more for South Africans in the future.

The new spectrum can be used for “super Wi-Fi”, which will be able to travel much longer distances and penetrate through obstacles. In his statement, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski claims that by giving the green light now, the United States will be the first nation to deploy this technology. Genachowski says: “We will have the investment here, the intellectual property developed and the products launched here, and then export our products globally – all contributing to U.S. job creation and economic growth”. There is no reason that this scenario cannot apply to South Africa; one just needs to look at how the technology industry in other emerging markets has exploded due to governments working together on a common goal to provide social upliftment through fostering technology innovation.

It is clear that South Africa needs to fast track freeing up sub 900 MHz frequencies and make them available as unlicenced spectrum. If government and ICASA want to deliver on their mandates of driving social development through high quality communication and an information orientated society, this is the perfect opportunity. South Africa has a rich history of technology entrepreneurs who have left our shores due to better prospect in the global market. South Africa needs to refocus, provide the tools for technology innovation to retain skills and grow South Africa’s economy, connectivity and pool of technology entrepreneurs.

Yours faithfully,
Henk Kleynhans
Chairperson
Wireless Access Providers’ Association