Absence of CA board stalls 4G Internet rollout

Telecom operators will have to wait longer before commercialising fourth generation (4G) Internet.

Wednesday March 9 2016

From left, ICT Permanent Secretary Sammy

From left, ICT Permanent Secretary Sammy Itemere, ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, Communications Authority (CA) Director-General Francis Wangusi and CA board chairman Ben Ngene Gituku during the launch of a spectrum-monitoring machine. PHOTO | LILIAN OCHIENG | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By LILIAN OCHIENG'
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Telecom operators will have to wait longer before commercialising fourth-generation (4G) Internet, as the Communications Authority awaits a board to approve the radio spectrum surrendered by broadcasters.

The regulator had planned to issue frequency licenses to operators this month, but the absence of a board has stalled the process. A fresh recruitment process for a new board has been quashed by the Industrial Court, acting on an application by members of the disbanded board.

“We need to have a board in place to approve digital dividends [frequencies]. As soon as the board is in place we will do that,” said CA Director-General Francis Wangusi.

ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru said they had “stopped the recruitment process for board members as per the court order; we now await the hearing date to know the fate, and already we had selected 28 members who were to be shortlisted”.

The telecom firms were awaiting to start using the frequencies full time late last year. Safaricom began the quest for a commercialisation license in August last year, and the CA gazetted the telco’s application for a license to begin the sale of services pegged on the 800MHz frequency band.

“We have gazetted the license but it has not been awarded yet,” said Mr Wangusi.

“The 800MHz band will be shared among different players; this will mitigate competition issues that may arise.”

PROLONGED

The CA board was to be in place in two months but the recruitment process could take more months, after the court order halting the process.

The allocation of the 4G network on a full-time basis is, therefore, due for mid this year if all goes well. Mr Wangusi told the Nation that the frequency allocated to Safaricom will be shared in portions of 30 per cent to willing contestants.

While Safaricom’s 4G frequency band is considered the fastest, giving it an edge in value-added products at faster Internet speed, Airtel’s frequency band would offer less than its competitor’s.

Airtel had complained to the CA because its 1800 MHz, allocated for a 12-month trial last year, is more expensive to maintain and requires installation of more base stations to deliver the same quality as Safaricom’s 800MHz.

Airtel CEO Adil El Youssefi requested the CA to come up with a sharing agreement ahead of the allocation of the frequencies.

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