ICASA reviews frequency allocation table

July 31st, 2008, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

by Linden Petzer, LP Consulting

Prior to 1994 spectrum management in South Africa was performed by the operators themselves: the SABC in the case of broadcasting, and Telkom in the case of non-broadcasting spectrum.

A brief overview of spectrum allocation in South Africa

The promulgation of the IBA Act (Act No 153 of 1993) saw the first independent management of spectrum in South Africa.

The Telecommunications Act (Act No 103 of 1996) heralded the establishment of the South African Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (SATRA), and the independent regulation of non-broadcasting telecommunications spectrum.

The basic functions that a spectrum management authority must perform are:

  • Allocation of spectrum
  • Frequency assignment and licensing
  • Record-keeping
  • Standards specification and equipment type approval
  • Spectrum usage enforcement and monitoring
  • International co-operation.

Internationally, spectrum allocations to various different services are made at the ITU World Radiocommunication conferences, where regulators and policy makers from around the world meet to review the ITU radio regulations. This international treaty contains, inter alia, the international table of frequency allocations.

It is on this international table of allocations that national states base their own national frequency allocation (band) plans.

The first attempt at establishing a national allocation plan and associated table of allocations for South Africa was in January 1996 when the postmaster-general of the Department of Posts and Telecommunications gazetted a notice regarding a new radio spectrum re-planning project known as SABRE (South African Band Re-planning Exercise). A team of international consultants, in partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), was appointed to conduct project SABRE.

The aim of project SABRE was to produce a nationally-agreed frequency allocation plan that would define how the radio frequency spectrum was to be used in South Africa in the future. It was recognised that spectrum was not being efficiently utilised and that this was resulting in congestion and mutual interference in certain bands, whilst other bands were under-utilised. Opportunities for the introduction of new technologies were also adversely affected.

In December 1996, the new South African Frequency Allocation Plan and Migration Strategy to implement the band plan were published in the Government Gazette.

The plan contained a table of allocations for services in the frequency range 20 MHz to 3 GHz.

Despite one of the stated aims of SABRE being to define how spectrum was to be used in the future, much of what was achieved in practise was to regularise and record the status quo.

A migration strategy covering the short and medium term was annexed to the allocation plan with target dates ranging from “immediate” to “10 years” for the migration of various services to alternative frequency bands, in an effort to accommodate new technologies.

One of the aims of the migration plan was to move all fixed links to frequencies above 3 GHz, thereby reserving frequencies below 3 GHz for mobile services.

Unfortunately, neither SATRA nor its successor, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) have effectively managed the SABRE migration plan, and it is doubtful whether records reflect which services have migrated, and which still occupy the original frequencies.

In May 1997 the SABRE plan was revised by extending its frequency range to include the band 3 400 to 3 600 MHz which was allocated to the fixed service for “wireless local loop” applications. The existing television broadcasting microwave contribution links were required to migrate immediately. However, no destination frequency band for these links was indicated.

In April 2008 SATRA gazetted a notice stating its intention to develop a “band plan” and migration strategy for the frequency range 3 GHz to 70 GHz. Again international consultants were appointed.

In August 2001 ICASA published “SABRE-2″, the South African table of allocations for the frequency range 3 GHz to 70 GHz, specifically excluding the band 3 400 to 3 600 MHz, which had been included in the original SABRE Plan, now known as “SABRE-1″.

SABRE-2 did not include any migration plans – it merely stated that there would be no forced migration, and that the following mechanisms would be incorporated into ICASA activities to achieve the plan set out in SABRE-2:

  • Use of channelling plans as contained in SABRE-2
  • Implementation of a “fixed link guidance” (sic)
  • Identification and encouragement of voluntary band, equipment and channel migration.

In 2004 ICASA consolidated SABRE-1 and SABRE-2 into a new allocation plan, the South African Table of Frequency Allocations (SATFA).

In many respects the 2004 SATFA was merely a “copy and paste” exercise.

However, the lower range of the table of allocations was extended to 19 kHz.

The main changes given by ICASA when publishing SATFA were:

  • Updating the band plan with changes made by the ITU World Radiocommunication Conferences in 1997, 2000 and 2003 (WRC-97, WRC-2000 and WRC-03)
  • Allocation to radio frequency identification systems (RFID) in the 900 MHz band;
  • Allocation of broadband FWA in the 2,6 GHz band
  • Allocation to public protection and disaster relief in the bands 380 – 385/390 – 395 MHz
  • Allocation of 2 x 10 MHz to E-GSM
  • Allocation of the 5 GHz band to “mobile” so as to enable wireless LAN “hotspots”
  • Allocation of the band 14 – 14,5 GHz to aeronautical mobile to enable broadband internet access by aircraft passengers
  • Protection of future radio astronomy activities in the 14 GHz band
  • Making spectrum available for new technologies and services, such as fixed wireless access, digital trunked radio, mobile satellite systems, IMT 2000, etc.

On 22 July 2008 ICASA gazetted a notice stating its intention to review the 2004 South African Table of Allocations. Interested parties have until 29 August 2008 to comment on the new draft plan.

According to ICASA, this review has become necessary to take into account technology changes and the results of the 2007 ITU World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-07).

Section 34 (4) of the Electronic Communications Act (ECA), which came into force on 19 July 2006, requires ICASA to prepare a national frequency plan, or to amend the existing frequency plan to bring it into conformity with the provisions of the ECA within 12 months of the Act coming into force.

To date, SABRE-1, SABRE-2, SATFA-04 and the draft SATFA-08 have all been issued in the absence of a national spectrum policy. It is especially pleasing to note that the Department of Communications has, as one of its priorities for this financial year, the development of a national
spectrum policy.

Such a policy will be of enormous benefit to the field of spectrum management in South Africa in the future.

Contact Linden Petzer, Tel 011 888-2294, lpetzer@netactive.co.za