State-owned South African broadband provider Sentech has accused WiMAX operator Screamer Telecoms of unlawfully using its spectrum to provide wireless broadband services. Sentech chairman Quraysh Patel has requested that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) act against Screamer if it finds that the company is still using Sentech’s spectrum, as he suspects. In a parliamentary hearing in Cape Town, Quraysh asserted that an agreement between Sentech and Screamer was cancelled in January, but Screamer continues to advertise WiMAX services.
Sentech want ICASA to establish exactly which frequencies Screamer are using, as it believes that Screamer is using a portion of Sentech’s spectrum in the 2.6GHz band to provide its WiMAX services. According to TechCentral, reports have emerged suggesting that Screamer has been using two 5MHz channels of Sentech’s spectrum. The website assesses that Screamer has licensed spectrum in the 7GHz and 38GHz bands, with additional access to 28GHz spectrum ‘on an ad hoc basis’. However, all of the spectrum bands that Screamer is licensed to use are generally utilised for backhaul links, not to provide commercial WiMAX services.
The deal between Screamer and Sentech has long been a source of controversy in the South African telecommunications industry; a team appointed by communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda discovered that the earlier contract with Screamer was in breach the Public Finance Management Act which bars state-owned enterprises like Sentech from entering into these types of public-private partnerships. Also, under the terms of its spectrum licence, Sentech is prohibited from trading its frequencies. The partnership came under increased scrutiny once Sentech closed down its WiMAX network in November 2009 due to operating difficulties. A number of commercial operators have subsequently expressed an interest in taking control of Sentech’s dormant spectrum.