ICASA Ready for the Upcoming Auction of High-Demand Radio Frequency Spectrum

ICASA has announced that they are standing ready for the imminent auction of high-demand radio frequency spectrum.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA/the Authority) stands ready for the much-anticipated and long-awaited auctioning of the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) – also referred to as high demand – spectrum, starting on 8 March 2022.

This auction process follows the recent announcement of six (6) qualified bidders for the auction. The radio frequency spectrum in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 2600 MHz, and 3500 MHz bands is made available through this licensing process for the purposes of providing national broadband wireless access services to all South Africans. The importance of this licensing process lies mainly in the enhancement of competition in the mobile services sector, increasing broadband connectivity and coverage, as well as bridging the digital divide between urban and rural access to mobile broadband networks.

In accordance with the published truncated timetable for this licensing process, the Authority successfully held a bidder seminar on 28 February 2022. The purpose of the seminar was to familiarise all bidders with the auction process as well as the necessary tools and applications needed to submit bids in line with the Invitation to Apply issued on 10 December 2021.

“We appreciate the way bidders participated in the seminar, and the extensive engagement in that regard. This is exemplary of the commitment and positive spirit we all require during this delicate period.”

Dr. Keabetswe Modimoeng, Chairperson, ICASA

Furthermore, the Authority conducted mock auctions with bidders from 1 to 3 March 2022, to ensure that bidders are comfortable with the bidding process and reinforce the rules discussed in the bidder seminar.

The Authority will kick-off this official process with the Opt-In Auction on 8 March 2022. The Opt-in Auction consists of a single bidding round where eligible bidders may submit bids to achieve a minimum spectrum portfolio (MSPs).

Only Tier-2 Operators are eligible to participate in the Opt-in Auction and to bid for packages that, if the bidder is successful, will ensure that when combined with its existing IMT Spectrum holdings, the bidder has access to a minimum spectrum portfolio (MSP) of 2×10 MHz in sub-1 GHz and 60 MHz above 1 GHz. Only 2 bidders can win spectrum to achieve the MSP in the Opt-in Auction.

The 4 eligible bidders are Cell C, Liquid Telecoms, Rain Networks and Telkom.

Bidders will submit their bids in person between 10h00 to 12h00 on 8 March 2022. The round will close early if bids from all qualified bidders were received before the scheduled end of the bidding window. Up to two Authorised Representatives of each qualified bidder (regardless of whether they are eligible to bid in the Opt-in Auction) will be allowed to observe and monitor the process.

Bid evaluation will be carried out in front of all authorised representatives and following the close of the bid submission window. ICASA will make a public announcement at the end of the Opt-in Auction including the winners, the amount of spectrum they won and the amount they will need to pay.

The main auction will start on 10 March 2022 and will be conducted using an online auction platform. All six qualified bidders will be eligible to bid for spectrum in this stage. Bidding is normally scheduled on business days between 09h00 and 17h00.

As the Main Stage is conducted in multiple bidding rounds and will end when bidders do not submit any newer bids (or waivers), a public announcement will be made after the conclusion of the Main Stage, including the winners for each lot as well as the amount that they will need to pay.

Following the conclusion of the Main Stage, ICASA will conduct an in-person assignment phase with all qualified bidders. This is an administrative process to determine the frequency assignment position of the lots won in the Opt-in Auction and the Main Stage. There will be one clear business day between the conclusion of the Main Stage and the start of the Frequency Assignment Phase. This phase will be concluded in a single day.

“Our public interest mandate requires of us to be thorough in our approach to licensing and regulatory interventions. We continue to take the necessary care in this spectrum auction process to ensure that there are no irreversible anti-competitive effects for the industry and the market. We therefore urge all bidders to work collaboratively with us for the benefit of all South Africans so that the assignment of the high demand spectrum can make a meaningful contribution to the country – with economic spin-offs, and benefits to the citizens and the overall business environment.”

Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, Chairperson, ICASA

Lastly, the Authority hereby informs all stakeholders that the ICASA Head Office in Centurion is currently inaccessible to the public until further notice due to the ongoing spectrum auction process. ICASA services continue to be available through other virtual means including telephone (switchboard number is 012 568 3000/1), and email.

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