Authored by Dr Martyn Roetter

The implementation of the policy priorities manifest in the 'Policy on High Demand Spectrum and Policy Direction on the Licensing of a Wireless Open Access Network' published in the Government Gazette of July 26, 2019 and the conditions to be established in the anticipated ITA (Invitation to Apply) Process for spectrum licences will have a decisive impact on the valuations and hence costs and uses of spectrum in South Africa. The outcomes will determine the capabilities, coverage and timing of the networks that are subsequently deployed to deliver new and improved services.

The delay in awarding high demand spectrum licences, and ICASA's decision to include the 3.5 GHz band in the future ITA open the opportunity for the country to coordinate the award not only of this high demand spectrum in the 700, 800 and 2600 MHz bands but also of other bands envisaged in many countries for 5G deployments (in other mid-band as well as high millimetre wave bands) in a coherent and productive framework.

Spectrum valuation is complex. The outcomes for prices of the same spectrum awarded even in comparable countries and market circumstances vary enormously, depending on the process that is employed and the conditions of the licences. It makes more sense to structure and adopt an awards process designed as best as possible to produce results that fulfill well articulated purposes for networks in supporting economic and social objectives, rather than trying to determine the value of spectrum as an exogenous variable to be taken into consideration as if it is independent of the process itself.

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