The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has issued a moratorium on spectrum assignments in the 3.6GHz – 3.8GHz band, effectively locking out new applicants for acquiring spectrum in this band.
The primary fixed wireless access (FWA) operator in this band is Rain, as it uses its tranche of spectrum in this band to operate its 5G home Wi-Fi products.
In its moratorium, ICASA noted that these 5G operations were causing harmful interference with transmissions from satellites that operate in the same spectrum band.
The authority said the “continued licensing of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) in the band will exacerbate harmful interference experienced by primary services in the band”.
A number of other bands were also included in the moratorium, although for different reasons – these bands have been identified for the implementation of International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) systems.
The full list of spectrum bands affected by the moratorium is shown below:
MyBroadband asked ICASA from whom it had received complaints regarding harmful interference in the 3.6-3.8GHz band and which operators’ FWA offerings were responsible, but the authority did not respond by the time of publication.
Rain and Telkom, both of whom hold licences for tranches of spectrum within the 3.6GHz – 4.2GHz band, both provided feedback on the interference responsible for the moratorium on 3.6-3.8GHz spectrum assignments.
Telkom told MyBroadband that it does not operate FWA systems in the affected band, but it said it was aware of interference with satellite receivers caused by Rain’s 5G operations.
“Telkom is aware of the harmful interference between FWA systems such as those deployed by Rain (5G FWA) in the band 3,600-3,800 MHz and satellite receivers operating in the same band,” the operator said.
“However, Telkom does not operate FWA systems in the band 3,600-3,800 MHz, which is the band included in the moratorium (Telkom is licensed in the band 3400-3600 MHz, which is part of the band proposed for auction).”
Telkom said it had previously made recommendations to ICASA to ensure that the necessary frequency coordination procedures are in place to avoid interference between FWA and satellite systems in this band.
The operator said it could support the principle behind the moratorium, but it is concerned that it may affect mobile network PTP links and that there was no public consultation prior to the moratorium being issued.
“Telkom could support the moratorium in principle, however, we are concerned that it may infringe on existing spectrum licence rights such as those in the 26GHz and 37GHz frequency bands used by the MNOs for the deployment of PTP links (which bands overlap the IMT bands),” Telkom said.
“Although the Authority indicated that the moratorium applies only to new applications for frequency spectrum assignments, MNOs must be allowed to continue to deploy additional PTP links within these bands (under existing spectrum licences) for which additional assignments will be required.”
“If not, it will seriously hamper the deployment of mobile networks in these frequency bands,” Telkom said.
“Telkom is also concerned that there was no public consultation on this matter.”
Rain CEO Willem Roos maintained they were unaware of any unresolved complaints about interference with satellite transmission in this band as a result of their 5G FWA operations.
“There is a process to follow in the regulations to resolve interference complaints,” Roos said.
“Rain has addressed all the complaints it has been made aware of. Rain is not currently interfering with any licensed satellite operator, or at least not that we have been notified of.”
To mitigate the effect of its operations on satellite transmission, Rain said it optimises its network in affected areas to reduce signal levels and it also supplies satellite operators with appropriate filters where required.
He said the imposition of a moratorium is ICASA’s decision, although he added that licensing another operator in this band would be a bad idea.
“It is ICASA’s prerogative to place a moratorium on further licensing in the band if they are concerned about interference, and Rain also doesn’t support licensing another operator in the band as it will be difficult to coordinate between two operators and satellite operators,” Roos said.
“Rain will continue to address and resolve interference complaints to the satisfaction of the regulator and hopes that the moratorium is lifted if it can prove to the regulator that coexistence in the band is feasible.”
“It is in South Africa’s interest that its 5G spectrum assets are utilised to their full potential to the benefit of all citizens,” he said.