A Global South Perspective on Alternative Spectrum Policy

Like voice services, mobile broadband has unlocked access for millions of people across Africa. This is mostly due to the success of mobile wireless technology in overcoming the many vast rural spaces throughout the continent, as well as the business models that allow for the investment in smart devices that are far cheaper and easier to use than computers, and availability of data services that can be purchased incrementally at low cost, such as top-up on demand. This policy paper provides an overview of state-of-the-art technology and standards that would allow alternative spectrum licensing, as well as certain limitations – both from a technological and a policy perspective. Spectrum measurements undertaken for this study provide evidence that certain frequency bands are unused, particularly in rural areas, and could easily be assigned to alternative service providers. A range of stakeholders have provided input for this study. These include technology experts, researchers, community networks practitioners, representatives from regulatory agencies and policy makers. Arising from this, directions for future work on advocating for changes in the regulatory environment are provided. The study reveals that there are a number of reasons why spectrum policies need a new paradigm to meet pent-up demand for communications services. Another argument for new policies on spectrum licensing comes from the success of community networks in providing broadband access in a number of cases. Community wireless networks are locally owned and operated networks that usually rely on alternative low-cost technologies and open-source solutions. They are being increasingly deployed to provide connectivity in remote rural areas that lack coverage or in areas covered by commercial operators where services are not affordable or use antiquated mobile technology, such as 2G GSM.