5G Interferes With Satellites, So South Africa Freezes Spectrum


Addressing concerns that 5G transmissions have been interfering with satellite communications, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has issued a moratorium on spectrum assignments, reports MyBroadband.co.za. The ICASA has determined that “continued licensing of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) in the band will exacerbate harmful interference experienced by primary services in the band.”

Popular home WiFi providers Rain and Telkom both hold licenses for segments of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz – 4.2 GHz bandwidth range. Representatives from both companies were interviewed by MyBroadband. Rain said it was unaware of any unresolved complaints about spectrum issues. Telkom said it did not operate in the compromised frequencies and pointed the finger at Rain as the transgressor.

“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,” said the unnamed Telkom spokesperson, adding that Telkom had proactively attempted to make the ICASA aware of this problem. Although licensed across a larger bandwidth, the representative noted that “Telkom does not operate FWA systems in the band 3,600-3,800 MHz, which is the band included in the moratorium.”

CEO William Roos, speaking on behalf of Rain said that it already coordinates efforts with satellite providers. “Rain has addressed all the complaints it has been made aware of,” stated Roos. “Rain is not currently interfering with any licensed satellite operator, or at least not that we have been notified of.” Roos further commented that “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.”

Although both Telkom and Rain acknowledged the authority of the ICASA, each also had concerns. Telkom expressed its worry that although the decision to freeze parts of the spectrum is aimed at new applications, current operations could be hampered. “Telkom could support the moratorium in principle, however, we are concerned that it may infringe on existing spectrum license rights such as those in the 26 GHz and 37 GHz frequency bands used by the MNOs for the deployment of PTP links (which bands overlap the IMT bands),” noted the Telekom spokesperson.

Telkom officials said they were displeased there was no discussion with the public before issuing the moratorium. Roos noted a similar dissatisfaction with the lack of public involvement, commenting, “It is in South Africa’s interest that its 5G spectrum assets are utilized to their full potential to the benefit of all citizens.” 

Echoing Telkom’s thoughts about limitations imposed upon current operators, Roos added, “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.” 

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