Without the temporary spectrum, South Africa’s mobile internet will slow at a breakneck pace: MTN

Earlier this week, we learned that the Council of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (the equivalent of POTRAZ for ICASA in South Africa) will be taking over the temporary spectrum on November 30 of this year. ‘he had given away for free to mobile network operators in South Africa. We thought this would be devastating news for South Africans and we felt we were right.

One of South Africa’s largest mobile network operators has confirmed what we suspect. South Africa’s mobile internet will be so affected by this change that it will be virtually unusable, especially in densely populated areas like townships and suburbs, especially those where most of the poor, who depend on mobile internet as opposed to fixed internet.

Since the start of the pandemic, the volume of data traffic that MTN has had to transport for its customers has more than doubled.

The temporary spectrum removal, when the pandemic remains a reality for all South Africans and before Icasa completes the spectrum auction, will have a significant impact on the provision of data to South Africans.

The impact of the National Disaster State has not abated since the last temporary spectrum extension. In fact, since the last expansion, South Africa has been hit by a record third wave of infections and has been moved to the level 4 risk adjustment level which was only brought back to level 3 on the 25th. July 2021.

Part of MTN’s statement on the matter

Put simply, MTN says South Africa’s mobile internet will be reduced to an unusable crawl if ICASA takes over the temporary spectrum. Traffic levels have increased by almost 160% since the start of the pandemic as more people work from home and rely more on the internet for things like shopping and education. There’s no way to handle all this surge without the temporary spectrum.

So it’s mind-boggling that right in the middle of the third wave, ICASA wants to hijack the temporary specter. It seems there is a better option here, why not proceed with the spectrum auction, which ICASA seems desperate to do while the spectrum is currently still in use. They can then pass it on to the winners who will decide what they want to do with it, including leasing it to current users instead of asking operators to leave the spectrum.

It all comes at a cost

South African mobile network operators have used spectrum more than Zimbabwean operators, in my opinion. The government and various institutions have created nearly 1,000 zero-rated websites and Internet tools that are used in the fight against COVID-19 and other related public interest programs. This has translated into an effective 30% decrease in data costs for the average South African.

If the spectrum is taken back, that means most of these sites will be removed from zero-rate listings and people will have to pay for the data to access them. Considering how the income has been affected, most people will be stuck. The real cost could come from lost lives and increased data costs.


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