(Getty)
  • South African cellphone operators can now get their hands on new blocks of radio frequency spectrum almost immediately, under rules meant to help with communications during the Covid-19 disaster.
  • That includes prime chunks of spectrum for 5G services – for which operators have been begging and pleading.
  • The catch: the operators only get the spectrum up to 30 November 2020. It it could cost them R100 000 per day if they keep using it.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South African cellphone operators can now get access to radio frequency spectrum on an emergency basis, to help with Covid-19 disaster communications, under new rules published by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) on Monday.

That includes frequency allocations that operators have been begging and pleading for in order to roll out 5G services, as well as bands that will allow them to provide better data service.

But there's a catch: the operators only get the spectrum until the end of November. On 30 November, say the Icasa regulations, the temporary licences to be granted will automatically become invalid.

That is if the licences are not revoked earlier than that. The spectrum allocation is also due to be revoked within three months after the end of South Africa's national state of disaster around the coronavirus, so that if the state of disaster were to be cancelled at the end of May, cellphone operators would have to hand back the spectrum at the end of August.

If the operators continue to use that spectrum, they could be fined up to R100 000 per day.

The temporary allocation of the high-demand spectrum is to help operators "deal with the anticipated rise in demand for network capacity or data services" during the disaster, Icasa said.

There will be no fees for access, and operators could have the use of the spectrum before the end of April; applications are due by Thursday, after which the regulator has given itself four days to process those applications.

See also: Vodacom has a ‘back door’ plan to bring 5G to SA in 2020 – despite government inaction

The spectrum Icasa is making available temporarily includes 116MHz in the 3500MHz range, which is particularly suited to 5G services thanks to the high potential data density that can be achieved at that range, and is sometimes referred to as the "golden band" for that reason

Another 40MHz block is in the 2300MHz range, which is popular for the delivery of LTE, or 4G services.

The three largest allocation, of blocks of 170MHz, 70MHz, and 20MHz, are all in the 2600MHz range, which in some instances is considered the preferred 5G band for its mixture of reach – which means fewer base stations have to be built to cover a geographic area – and data capacity.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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