Despite the reshuffle that has happened in parliament recently, with the creation of a new Ministry for Telecommunications and Postal Services, which is to act separately from the existing Ministry of Communications, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) does not expect its mandate to change in any significant way.
ICASA will remain under the purview of the Department of Communications which will be headed up by Faith Muthambi.
Industry experts are hopeful that the new regime will maintain the momentum created by former Minister Yunus Carrim, who sought to fast track a number of ICASA’s lagging projects, including, local loop unbundling, digital migration, and spectrum assignment.
The ICT industry in South Africa is particularly eager for ICASA to speed up the process of spectrum assignment, including the use of extremely high-frequency (EHF) spectrum which can be used for high-speed broadband.
The industry has been very vocal about the “slow pace” at which the regulator is moving on spectrum allocation. ICASA has stated that they currently have no framework for frequencies above 30GHz and have openly said its 2014/15 performance plan does not include the licensing of EHF (50GHz to 80GHz).
One of ICASA’s councillors, William Stucke, said at the Future Wireless Technology Forum last week that they are considering ways of opening up extremely high frequency (EHF) radio spectrum bands above 30GHz.
The forum was organised by the Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA), in order to discuss ways South Africa can take advantage of EHF spectrum, which is often referred to as the e-band or the millimetre-wave band in reference to the size of wavelengths at these frequencies.
According to Stucke, ICASA still needs to develop a position on how EHF spectrum should be licenced, if at all. ICASA currently regulates all spectrum between 9kHz and 1THz but has never attempted to tackle anything above 30GHz. At these levels the current fee structure would prove prohibitively expensive so a new regime would have to be implemented and appropriate pricing models determined.
One option is the licence exempt model which can work well for Wi-Fi hotspots but is not as good for commercial use as there is no provision for protection from interference.
EHF also has a number of problems, including the fact that it is only really suitable for short-distance communications (typically 2km or less) and the fact that it is highly susceptible to so-called “rain fade”, where heavy rains can cause connectivity problems. This would not however be as much of a problem in South Africa, were rainfall is on the whole, comparatively low.