South African operators given licence guarantee to 2028

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

Operators commit to buy 30% of government's wholesale open-access spectrum in exchange for 11-year licence guarantee

South Africa’s mobile operators have agreed to buy wholesale open-access spectrum from the government in exchange for a deal that allows them to keep their existing spectrum for another 11 years.

The six operators – Cell C, Liquid Telecom, MTN, Multisource Telecom, state-owned Telkom and Vodacom – said they would buy at least 30% of the planned Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN).

Telecoms minister Siyabonga Cwele said that operators may be able to license up to 50% of WOAN capacity in exchange for agreements on rural coverage.

“It is important to realise that without WOAN, the new entrants, particularly black entrepreneurs and SMMEs, will find it impossible to enter this industry,” said Cwele. “In the next few months, we intend to finalise the implementation plan.”

But in a speech to parliament Cwele also threatened operators over prices and said “this situation may need the attention of the Competition Commission”. He said: “We appeal to operators [to] start competition in services to ensure the cost data and call fall to affordable levels or below 2% of average household income.”

In a follow-up speech deputy telecoms minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams announced plans to improve skills in South Africa. She said Google, IBM and Microsoft would between them train 7.1 million people in digital skills. Microsoft will build what she called “Africa’s first digital hub”. Cisco will connect 50 schools with digital technology; Ericsson will deploy digital labs in schools; and the UK government will provide £15 million in funding.