Communications regulator Icasa has deferred a planned auction of high-demand spectrum indefinitely.
In a notice published in the Government Gazette, Icasa said it is deferring the timeframe for the spectrum award process until further notice.
The move is unsurprising, given the planned auction is the subject of a legal challenge by telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele.
Cwele already won an urgent interdict stopping Icasa from going ahead with the auction until the courts have had a chance to consider the matter.
The planned spectrum auction is at direct odds with government policy plans, endorsed by Cwele, to assign the spectrum to a single national operator.
Under the controversial national integrated ICT policy white paper, government wants to allocate all high-demand spectrum spectrum that can be used to deploy 4G and future 5G networks to a wholesale open-access network (Woan) provider.
The plan, which has drawn intense criticism from the big mobile operators, the Free Market Foundation, industry analysts and others while drawing praise, albeit qualified, from the Internet Service Providers Association would bring an end to the allocation of exclusive-use spectrum to companies such as Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom.
Critics have slammed the plan, saying it is untested and could backfire badly on South Africa if it flops.
While government has said it intends pushing ahead with the plan to create the Woan, Icasa has also refused to budge, insisting that a spectrum auction is the best way of allocating scarce spectrum. Certainly, Icasas plan is in line with international best practice.
TechCentral understands from a well-placed source that discussions are taking place behind the scenes between Icasa and government officials in attempt to resolve the impasse. However, the source said the parties have been unable so far to overcome their differences and that its difficult to see how they can reach agreement.
The spectrum that Icasa wants to auction off is in the 700MHz, 800MHz and 2,6GHz bands. All three bands are pivotal for delivering next-generation wireless broadband services to South Africans and reducing the cost of communications.