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Communications regulator Icasa is moving to speed up the allocation of “digital dividend” spectrum in South Africa that’s still occupied by television broadcasters in a move that could mean better and cheaper broadband is delivered sooner.

South Africa’s digital migration project has been a slow-motion train wreck, with self-imposed deadline after self-imposed deadline missed by government for over a decade. The country had agreed with the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the United Nations, to complete analogue switch-off by June 2015, but failed to do so.

Icasa now appears keen to get the process moving so that the “digital dividend” in the 700MHz and 800MHz bands can be reassigned to telecommunications operators to provide mobile and wireless broadband services. The regulator wants to licence spectrum in those and other bands later this year.

The authority on Friday published the final radio frequency spectrum assignment plan for the frequencies between 470MHz and 694MHz, “thereby providing a plan for the phased approach in implementing the analogue television switch-off into digital terrestrial television (DTT) through a single frequency network”.

The assignment plan in this band will “further expedite and fast-track the implementation of DTT, and the concurrent release of the first and second digital dividend spectrum for the deployment of” mobile broadband technologies. It’s important that operators get access to additional sub-1GHz spectrum currently used for television services as this spectrum allows networks to be built more cheaply in rural areas and to improve in-building coverage and speeds in urban areas.

Restacking

The 2013 terrestrial broadcasting frequency plan did not allow for a direct migration from analogue to digital television, Icasa explained, but rather for a two-stage process that would first allow analogue television to be transmitted in parallel with DTT (known as “dual illumination”), followed by a “restacking” process of frequencies to release the digital dividend between 694MHz and 862MHz.

Icasa acting chairman Keabetswe Modimoeng said the new frequency assignment plan, and other measures, will allow for the immediate availability of the 470MHz to 694MHz band for DTT at the time of analogue television switch-off – a date for which has not yet been set.

Icasa chairman Keabetswe Modimoeng

The restacking process of the DTT services currently operating in the digital dividend bands to below 694MHz should culminate in the clearing of the 700MHz and 800MHz frequency bands for the deployment of mobile broadband sooner than anticipated.

“This process will enable the permanent release and awarding of the IMT (mobile telecoms) radio frequency spectrum – the process that Icasa is currently undertaking for the licensing of high-demand spectrum through an auction,” Modimoeng said. That auction is scheduled to take place before the end of the year and is likely to attract bids from Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and other operators keen to exploit access to additional spectrum assets.  — © 2020 NewsCentral Media

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