WOAN licence ‘likely’ to be awarded in 2021


The licensing of the government-proposed wholesale open access network (WOAN) is likely to be completed during the course of next year, according to president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa revealed this during his State of the Nation Address on Thursday evening, noting that due to additional requirements, the WOAN won’t be up and running for another year.

Government has proposed the WOAN as a viable option for creating new business opportunities for ICT SMMEs, new entrants into the ICT sector, as well as transformation of the industry to benefit and empower women.

After numerous delays, communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams finally issued the policy and policy direction for the licensing of high-demand spectrum, paving the way for WOAN licensing, last July.

In the policy, Ndabeni-Abrahams directs that a portion of unallocated high-demand spectrum must first be assigned to a network category of licensees, known as WOAN, and the remainder must then be assigned to other eligible licensees.

Ramaphosa also stated the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) is looking to conclude the licensing of high-demand spectrum for industry via auction before the end of 2020.

The president’s sentiments echo those expressed by ICASA CEO Willington Ngwepe at the end of last year that the telecoms regulator plans to expedite the spectrum licensing process, with the intention to grant licences sometime this year.

South Africa’s last big set of spectrum issued was in the 2.1GHz band, which helped the operators in their 3G network deployment. Vodacom and MTN were allocated such spectrum, respectively, in 2004 and 2005, while Cell C received such spectrum in 2011.

During this time, mobile operators have had to split and refarm their spectrum resources to mitigate spectrum shortages and expand 4G availability.