If it’s a licensed wireless service you are after, then it’s important to know the basics of the spectrum application process so that you can have the confidence that your wireless partner is providing you with what they promised.

The first obligation of a provider who wishes to offer a wireless service is the possession of an ECS (Electronic Communications Service) license, ECNS (Electronic Communications Network Service) license and a Dealer Certificate, all obtainable from ICASA. Note that a service- or network provider must be in possession of all three documents and not just one or the other, regardless of whether the service offered is licensed or unlicensed. The second requirement is that all the equipment to be installed must be ICASA Type Approved, in other words it must have a type approval label with the type approval number visible on the installed equipment.

Frequency spectrum is divided into two categories, unlicensed or license exempt spectrum (also sometimes erroneously referred to as ISM band) and licensed spectrum. Equipment can be installed at anytime, anywhere using unlicensed spectrum, as long as the equipment is type approved. License-free bands may be unlicensed, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unregulated. The license-exempt bands are regulated by the total power output of a wireless device through the sum of the signal’s direct power transmission into the antenna and the antenna gain. This is known as the EIRP, or Equivalent Isotropic Radiated Power and is not allowed to exceed the regulated values per specific sub-band. The frequency used (transmitted) must also fall within the South African published license-exempt frequency bands.

Licensed spectrum on the other hand, is regulated by ICASA through the issuing of specific licenses, depending on the requirement. These licenses include Point-to-Point licenses which can be obtained on an ad-hoc basis for specific clients within specific frequencies; Point-to-Multi-Point licenses or sterilized area licenses, which means the licensee has the right to operate within a specifically allocated frequency within a specifically allocated sterilized area.

By their very nature, unlicensed solutions are prone to frequency interference, which makes licensed solutions that much more desirable. A provider with a sterilized area license can therefore offer its clients a number of benefits, such as quick deployment (as there is no need to wait for the ICASA application process, which can take up to 12 weeks), uncontended last mile access with virtually no interference and an aggressive SLA based on either availability or mean time to respond.

While many advances have been made in the area of ISM-based microwave equipment, the benefits of owning a licensed solution still far outweigh those of an unlicensed one.

Whether you’re a network owner or a customer with a wireless service, it’s important to know these licensing procedures because as a network owner, you run the risk of a complete network shutdown, and as a customer, you could be faced with having your service interrupted.