South Africa’s communications regulator completed a delayed spectrum auction, announcing all six qualifying bidders picked up frequencies in the various spectrum bands on offer and raising a total of ZAR14.4 billion ($960.7 million).

In a statement, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) noted Cell C, Liquid Telecom, MTN South Africa, Rain Networks, Telkom South Africa, and Vodacom South Africa submitted bids in the main auction of frequencies in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2600MHz and 3500MHz bands, which took place after an initial opt-in phase.

Vodacom was the biggest spender, securing 110MHz of the so-called high demand spectrum. It will pay ZAR5.4 billion for 2x10MHz blocks in the 700MHz, 1x80MHz in the 2600GHz, and 1x10MHz in the 3500MHz bands.

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, noted while a high price had been paid, the operator was pleased with the outcome of the auction and would now move to extend 4G and 5G network coverage to more parts of the country.

MTN was next in terms of total amount spent, committing ZAR5.2 billion for 2x10MHz in the 800MHz, 4x10MHz in the 2600MHz, and 4x10MHz in the 3500MHz bands.

The operator stated this is the first time in about 17 years that spectrum has been released on a permanent basis in South Africa and increases MTN’s total spectrum holdings from 76MHz to 176MHz.

Telkom, which is still challenging certain aspects of the auction, picked up 22MHz in the 3500MHz band for ZAR808.8 million. The operator had already secured 2x10MHz in the 800MHz band for ZAR1.5 billion in the opt-in phase.

Rain Networks gained 10MHz in the 3500MHz band for ZAR280.1 million, adding to the 2x10MHz of 700MHz and 10MHz in the 2600MHz band secured for ZAR1.2 billion in the opt-in phase.

Cell C picked up 1x10MHz in the 3500MHz band for ZAR288 million, while Liquid Telecom secured 4MHz of 3500MHz for ZAR111 million.

A third, largely administrative stage will take place on 22 March to determine exactly which spectrum ranges will be assigned to each of the lots acquired.

The spectrum has been allotted for a 20-year period on a technology-neutral basis.

ICASA noted there was one unsold lot of 2x10MHz in the 800MHz band which will be licensed at some point in future.

Legal fight
The regulator and Telkom are still due to take part in a court hearing regarding challenges to the auction.

However, following a cabinet meeting last week, South Africa’s government scrapped plans for a wholesale open access network, knocking out a key pillar of Telkom’s lawsuit.