POTRAZ, the local telecommunications regulator has put out an advert inviting various stakeholders to contribute to a consultative process which is meant to review the current telecoms licensing Framework.
Zimbabwe currently has a service-specific telecommunications licensing framework which was adopted as part of an ITU migration path back in 2009 and later used in 2013 when mobile telecoms operators were compelled to pay fees of $137,5 million towards a 20-year operational licence.
So why is this happening now?
By POTRAZ’s admission, service specific licencing is no longer sustainable in a converged environment.
Thanks to changes in technology, market conditions and definitions around the types of telecoms, services that operators are now geared to deliver have changed significantly and are set to experience a series of changes in the years to come.
A good example is how voice service licencing became obscure due to the capabilities of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology that Internet Access Providers were able to deliver under their specific Internet Access Provider (IAP) Class ‘A’ licence which was cheaper to acquire than the Public Cellular Mobile licence used by mobile network operators.
Effectively a single platform can now offer a variety of services that weren’t possible back in 2009, something that makes it possible for operators to have a go at offering more viable services that make investment sense, particularly from the perspective of subscriber economies of scale.
From a service provider’s perspective, this means that service specific licences are no longer relevant since they affect the providers’ ability to take advantage of efficiencies brought in by tech innovation.
Infrastructure sharing is also an issue here, mainly because the adopted resolutions for shared infrastructure require the licencing of a separate entity that specifically handles network infrastructure, without assuming any role in the delivery of service through that infrastructure.
A new licencing framework will be able to make that distinction, something that will also dovetail into service provision that won’t require the setting up of new infrastructure such as Mobile Virtual Network Operators.
What changes are expected from all this?
After recommendations are accepted from stakeholders (this exercise is set to last from the 26th of October to the 26th of November 2015) POTRAZ will proceed to factor whatever is deemed as appropriate into the proposed framework. The proposed framework is available for download here.
Under this framework there will be the following licences;
1. Network Facilities Licence (NFL) – This will authorise the construction, installation, ownership and control of communication infrastructure comprising types as prescribed from time to time
2. Network Services Licence (NSL) – This allows for the operation of communication networks that deliver services which include bandwidth services, cellular mobile services, access applications services, space segment services, internet service provision, payphone services, Public Switched Telecommunication Network (PSTN) services, Public cellular services, Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, and Public data service.
3. Application Services Licence – It will allow for the provision of electronic communication services to end-users such as Internet services, VoIP, messaging services, video conferences, payphone mobile money among others. It will be split into two categories
Category A – This will serve Application Service Licensees who are also licensed to offer network services at national or international level. The licence duration is 10 years for category A which will be issued as an Individual Licence.
Category B – This will be an electronic communication licence entitling the holder who neither owns any network facilities nor operates any telecommunications network but leases capacity to provide one or more application services. Examples are internet services providers (ISPs), Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), Fixed Virtual Network Operator (FVNO), Value Added Services providers. The duration for this licence will be 5 years.
4. Unified Licence – This will combine the Network Facilities Licence, the Network Services Licence and the Application Services into one. Licensee are allowed to construct, install, own and maintain network facilities and also provide network and application services under the same licence. Unified Licences will be valid for 20 years.
5. International Gateway(s) Licence – this will allow for the establishment and operation of international switches/gateways and international transmission facilities for purposes of aggregating and distributing incoming and outgoing international voice and data traffic.
The recently renewed cellular mobile licences which were set at $137,5 million will be converted to unified licences. Any licencee with a licence set to expire will be asked to follow the new framework when the need to renew the licence arises, with an option to select the category they want to operate under.
While initial licence fees will comprise Authorization (Initial licence) fees and where applicable Spectrum Access Fees (SAF) other costs will include Annual Spectrum Usage Fees, Number Usage Fees and Annual Licence Fees (2% of Adjusted Annual Gross Turnover).
Interestingly though, the Universal Services Fund contribution has been proposed at 1.5% which is triple the 0.5% that is currently being levied by POTRAZ.
Do you want to contribute to this Licencing Framework process? You can send your suggestions to the Director General of POTRAZ via email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the POTRAZ website for more details.