JOHANNESBURG, Jan 28 (Reuters) - South African mobile
network operator MTN Group has asked the Gauteng High
court to scrap or review the telecom regulator's auction process
for awarding spectrum vital for rolling out 5G technology.
MTN is the latest mobile operator to take the Independent
Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to court, after
smaller rival Telkom sought the court's help in
December to halt the sale, a move ICASA says it will challenge.
The legal disputes threaten to delay the auction that is
expected to be held by the end of March.
Operators have been waiting more than a decade for ICASA to
release new spectrum licences seen as vital to attract new
investment and help lower costs for operators and users.
MTN is challenging ICASA's decision to put operators in two
categories, putting MTN and rival Vodacom in Tier 1 and
Telkom, Cell C and others in Tier 2, according to court papers
seen by Reuters.
The papers were filed on Wednesday.
Under this classification, MTN says Tier 1 operators would
be excluded from an opt-in auction round, undermining their
ability to secure access to the 3.5GHz radio frequency spectrum
band seen as vital to their rollout of 5G technology.
MTN says this gives smaller operators, which already have
spectrum in that band, first option to purchase more capacity,
at the expense of MTN. It calls the definitions used to classify
the companies "impermissibly vague, arbitrary and unreasonable."
Telkom and Liquid Telecom already have access to the 3.5GHz
band, while MTN, Vodacom and Cell C do not, the papers show.
MTN said it did not want a delay in allocating spectrum but
said it had no choice but to ask the court to declare the
process unlawful and review it or correct it or set it aside.
ICASA's spokesman said the regulator would issue a statement
on the matter by the end of the week.
(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Edmund Blair)