Spectrum Policy Key to Achieving Objectives of SA Connect

September 22, 2014

The Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA) has released a draft Position Paper on Spectrum, and last week hosted the second Future Wireless Technologies Forum, as part of iWeek, at the Indaba Hotel in Johannesburg. Both these initiatives are for the purpose of giving real-world examples and industry insight to the Regulator and to policymakers. This context will better enable the various government bodies to achieve their stated objectives.

South Africa Connect (SA Connect) outlines broad and ambitious goals for connectivity in order to, among other things, promote the competitiveness of the South African economy. Goals include having access of at least 5Mbps for 50% of the population by 2016 and 90% by 2020.

Within SA Connect there are several elements that are particularly relevant to the Position Paper on Spectrum and the Future Wireless Technologies Forum, which focused on licence-exempt spectrum:

  1. The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS, formerly the Department of Communications) issued a directive in SA Connect “to release high demand spectrum in ways that encourage efficient use, wholesale access, and fair competition” (Appendix 2 page 56)
  2. The DTPS will be “issuing the necessary policy directives to the ICASA to expedite the assignment of broadband spectrum.” (page 5)
  3. The DTPS will “undertake a review of all relevant legislation and regulation required to enable implementation of this policy” (Appendix 2 page 56; ‘this policy’ being SA Connect)

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) recently published a Strategic Plan for 2015-2019, which contains a target for 2014-15: “Position Paper on opportunistic spectrum management approved and results gazetted.”

The WAPA Position Paper on Spectrum can be considered a key input to the work ICASA is undertaking.

Licensed spectrum allows service providers exclusive access to certain spectral frequencies, enabling them to deliver services without the concern of interference from other users of the spectrum. Licence-exempt spectrum can be prone to interference from multiple users, but the costs to build and deliver services over these frequencies is lower, enabling new companies and SMMEs to innovate, thereby increasing competition and lowering the cost of communication.

Currently, some spectrum bands are heavily used while other bands are unused or under-utilised. There are many wireless devices which are widely and safely used in other countries, which cannot presently be deployed in South Africa. This limits the abilities of the Internet service providers to innovate with technology in order to drive down the cost of communications. Ways to solve this include:

  • More efficient use and management of spectrum that has already been allocated
  • Expanding the range of frequencies allowed within existing allocations
  • Allocate or re-allocate spectrum based on international best practices and the latest equipment technologies, to relieve pressure in other frequencies

In its Position Paper on Spectrum, WAPA has provided specific recommendations for the most efficient use of individual frequency bands, as well as general principles for allocation, licensing, and management. WAPA promotes spectrum allocation as licence-exempt where practical, because the lower costs involved in delivering services in those bands promotes innovation among SMMEs, including WAPA members.

In the Future Wireless Technologies Forum, industry experts explore technology opportunities and constraints, industry best practices, and suggest changes to existing regulations in order to better enable the policy and regulatory objectives above.

Some of the key discussions at last week’s event included:

  • Recommendation that 24GHz (currently allocated for short-range devices and field disturbance and Dopplar apparatus) should be allocated for point-to-point backhaul, preferably on a licence-exempt basis, in order to relieve congestion in 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz
  • Key principles for spectrum policy should include a process to enable rapid assignment, technologies and regulation to enable rapid deployment, and ability to identify interference rapidly and cost-effectively
  • General consensus that a database approach for spectrum sharing, along the lines of the TVWS approach, will be used in future across multiple frequencies, although the specifics in a South African context have yet to be agreed

WAPA as an industry body, and its members via working groups and the Future Wireless Technologies Forum, hope to provide clear, relevant, and useful feedback to the Regulator and the DTPS.