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ICT Ministry Says Giving Additional Free Spectrum Has Improved Internet Access During Pandemic – Truth Or Propaganda?

   
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At the beginning of May, POTRAZ with the permission of the Ministry of ICT announced that they would be freeing up additional spectrum to internet service providers and mobile network providers.

The Ministry recently released a press release detailing some of the good things that have come from that move and there are some interesting things to take note of

The nature of the additional spectrum dished out

The Ministry’s press release revealed the type of spectrum dished out which will be of interest to those of you who are technically inclined;

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  • POTRAZ assigned an additional channel of 2x5MHz each for congestion relief to NetOne, Econet and Telecel until December 2020;
  • Liquid Telecom was assigned a free additional 15 MHz in the 2300 MHZ band for congestion relief on its LTE network for the same period;
  • Dandemutande who are in the 2.3 GHz band, which is less congested, was allocated an additional 20 MHz free of charge until year end.

Whilst we discussed the impact of giving up additional spectrum the Ministry hammered away at that point noting that the move will reduce congestion on networks as more people work and learn from home. Simultaneously it will allow service providers to provide cheaper bundles which has materialised in the form of cheaper eLearning bundles.

Since the announcement of allocation of additional spectrum POTRAZ hasn’t acknowledged the fact that all the companies they’ve given additional spectrum will actually have to work towards tapping into this spectrum

The IAPs and MNOs will have to reconfigure their networks and also implement certain hardware at their base stations to actually tap into this spectrum and to my knowledge, the MNOs are yet to do this (some are in the process) which calls into question how much of this is the free spectrum. They are working to implement

Anyway the press release attributed the following successes to the additional spectrum;

Cheaper bundles & internet access

The allocation of additional spectrum has allowed ISPs and the Ministry highlighted the following offerings as a direct result of this move;

  • Econet, NetOne & Telecel are all now offering e-learning bundles with data much cheaper than their standard offerings;
  • NetOne launched an eHealth bundle and is “now liaising with Ministry of Health and Child Care to access the databases of health professionals so that bundles can be allocated to them”.
  • Liquid provided access to free high-speed wifi to students on all Liquid Telecom Edu-Zones which have been deployed at 48 higher and tertiary education institutions across the country.

Musings…

The eLearning bundles are significantly cheaper than the existing bundles and seem to generally be a good idea that if taken up by institutions will be a great way to improve access to online learning at a time when that is the biggest concern in the education circles.

Interestingly, the Ministry doesn’t mention Econet’s church bundles which one would assume they are able to offer because of the free spectrum

The press release by the Ministry was the first mention I’ve heard of an e-Health bundle being offered by NetOne. We reached out to NetOne representatives to confirm the existence of such a bundle and they said they’ll get back to us with confirmation. At the time of writing, they are yet to do so.

Also the Ministry lumps Liquid Telecom’s EduZones program to their spectrum but its important to note that Liquid Telecom announced the Edu-Zones program as far back as December 2019 – 5 months before the additional spectrum was dished out.

Ultimately, I think the gesture by POTRAZ and by extension the Ministry of ICT was a good one and well-meaning but I have doubts on whether the impact is as far-reaching as of yet. I do think in the near future the impacts of their awarding of the spectrum will bear fruit


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