South Africa’s regulator ICASA invited operators to apply for additional spectrum which will be released on a temporary basis, responding to government orders, in an effort to meet increased demand caused by the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.

In a statement, ICASA said it would make high-demand spectrum available for the duration of a national state of disaster to ease network congestion, maintain good quality of broadband services and enable licensees to lower the cost of access for consumers.

The move comes after the South African government reportedly demanded ICASA issue additional spectrum to aid operators, as the country entered a three-week lockdown to contain the virus.

Spectrum in the 700MHz, 800MHz, 2300MHz, 2600MHz and 3500MHz bands will be made available, with companies required to submit applications by 9 April, ICASA said.

Acting chairperson Keabetswe Modimoeng, however, insisted the emergency release of spectrum “does not, in any way whatsoever”, negate processes underway for the permanent assignment of spectrum.

South Africa plans to hold an auction for additional frequencies, which it hopes to finalise by the end of 2020.

Modimoeng added the criteria used to release the spectrum on a emergency basis will be fair and non-discriminatory, as ICASA was committed to ensuring the move should neither delay, nor undermine, the move to licence the spectrum permanently.

“We intend to take the necessary care in this regard, and to ensure that there are no irreversible anti-competitive effects for the market,” he said.