MACRA calls for SADC frequency harmonisation

By Gregory Gondwe, Blantyre, Malawi

The Director General of the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) Charles Nsaliwa has called on SADC member states to harmonise their activities in the region so that they continue serving their respective countries in an orderly manner.

Nsaliwa spoke at Universal Broadband in SADC workshop as well as The Communication Regulators' Association of Southern Africa (CRASA) frequency planning committee which is underway in Lilongwe in Malawi.

 “Frequency Planning is one of the most important elements of the international regulations and a means of preserving the rights of all ITU [International Telecommunication Union] Member States in the context of equitable access to the limited frequency resource,” he said.

Nsaliwa told the meeting which started on the 14th and will wind up of 20th that regulators have the mandate to plan the use of the spectrum in line with current trends and future needs of the telecommunications or ICT industry.

“As a scarce resource,” he said “it must be used effectively and efficiently so that the socio-economic benefits are realized. It must also be equitably shared so that universal service is realized.”

He said the region cannot talk about further developing the ICT sector if it does not lay down a proper plan of frequencies.

“As we identify new frequencies though, we should be mindful of protecting the existing services,” he said.

And in this regard, he hailed the last month SADC Regional Frequency Plan meeting in Angola for World Radio Conference – 15 where it was agreed that spectrum estimates could be based on either the ITU-R (ITU Radio communication) methodology or the simplified Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) methodology.

Nevertheless, Nsaliwa said, it was highlighted that the amount of IMT spectrum or Spectrum for International Mobile Telecommunications ("IMT") needed in any particular country should not be the main issue.

“Rather the need for frequency harmonization and flexibility,” he said.

In identifying frequency bands for IMT, SADC has agreed to take into consideration; the needs of developing nations; the need for cost effective services for a wide range of user densities and coverage areas (such as the rural); international harmonization; flexibility and long term frequency use; and current use of frequency bands

“As SADC members we need to plan our frequencies according to the specifications provided by the ITU so that we work with the given allocations and achieve full potential of the available spectrum,” said Nsaliwa.

He disclosed that Malawi has embarked on a spectrum, Re-farming project aimed at re-allocating the used radio frequency spectrum so that it can accommodate more users or new technologies.

“We are through with initial activities and we are expecting to implement the project next month,” he said.

He also disclosed that Malawi has embraced the Television White Spaces project – TVWS which seeks to provide broadband connectivity to rural Malawi at affordable cost using the identified gaps, referred to as white spaces, in the television of UTRA HIGH Frequency (UHF) band.

“The pilot phase is nearing its end and the project has been successful as the technology has proved to be useful in the rural areas where education and health institutions have benefitted,” he said.

He however, indicated that there is need to explore other ways like the Dynamic Spectrum Access of utilizing the spectrum in an efficient manner in order to embrace new technologies that are beneficial to SADC region.

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